Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

An Election Not Like the Others in America

Many people are worried about the November 2 election result and its repercussions. Joseph Biden has a comfortable advantage in the opinion polls, including in key big states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that supported Trump in 2016. Some analysts believe there could be a Democratic Party tsunami that allows the party to capture the White House and both chambers of Congress. In addition to the White House, the Senate is extremely important for the Democratic Party because the Senate controls approval for all the senior officials in a President’s administration such as ministers and undersecretaries and ambassadors and new judges. And its approval is necessary for the annual government budget. The Senate under Republican Party control in 2014 impeded every initiative of President Obama. For the Democratic Party to recapture the Senate in the Congress in 2020, it must win the election for the senator where I live in the state of Maine, at the extreme northeast of the country.

In the debates between the candidates for Congress here and in other states, the issues are the same: health care and the virus, conservative judges or liberal judges, and questions about taxes and the economy. In the several debates between candidates, Russia and China are absent, and the Middle East is far from the minds of party leaders and supporters.

Now that I am retired from the diplomatic service I work as a volunteer for one of the parties. In the past, party supporters would visit each house and apartment to encourage voters to vote for their party candidates. With the virus, now we try to speak to voters on the telephone, and I have called hundreds of people in the districts and cities near my home. Most of the voters where I live support the other party. I have written in this newspaper before about the deep political divisions in America and Maine has the same problem. When I call a house that supports the other party, the person hangs up immediately without a word. The only ones who do not hang up immediately curse me and my party first and then hang up. In the hundreds of telephone calls, I have not had one political discussion with a supporter from the other party. And when you meet people in our small city at a store, at the church, in the library you rarely discuss politics because it is a painful subject. This is not how Americans thought about politics 20 years ago.

My party colleagues and I erected signs in front of our houses and on the streets to encourage voters to choose our candidates, and sometimes supporters of the other party steal them so we put out more signs. I became friends with some neighbors because of politics. After they saw my party’s signs in front of our house, some people I didn’t know came to me and requested signs for their homes. In America’s suburbs, you usually don’t know your neighbors so the party signs enabled us to become acquainted after we discovered that we have similar political views. This also shows the polarization in America: you only know and speak about politics with people whose political views resemble your political views. This cannot be healthy for a democratic system.

In addition to the virus, there is also a new fear of violence before and after the election from armed militias. There are no militias where I live. However, the federal police arrested six members of a conservative militia last week who planned to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan. It’s the first time I have ever heard of a conspiracy like this in the United States. Unless there is a Democratic Party tsunami victory on November 2, before we can know the final election result we will have to wait for weeks after November 2 for every vote in every state to be counted. There will be many cases in the courts about the voting procedures and the counting of ballots. Will militias from the right or the left deploy in front of court buildings and election centers to intimidate local officials? Will there be violence between conservative armed groups and leftists like happened in Denver city last Saturday? This was shocking because Denver is a rich, prosperous city. If there is no final election result by January 20 when the new president must take the oath of office, what will happen? And most important, how can American citizens reduce the sharpness of political divisions? Do they want to reconcile? It is clear that this election won’t heal those deep divisions in American society regardless of who wins.