You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
The extremely wise man who said all of the above (and there is no need to name him) would also have been sagacious enough to know that you can fool enough
of the people enough
of the time – and enough of the time may well be sufficient to achieve what you want.
Which brings us to the current sad state of affairs in the United States of America. America has long been considered the home of democracy – modern democracy that is. The rating of American democracy, however, has dropped considerably in the past few years. As a country, it no longer lists in the top 20 democratic nations (compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit), a list topped by Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Ireland. The UK, because of the subtle power of the monarchy and because of its unelected House of Lords, only pushes in around 14th.
Is America's democratic decline important to Scotland? Absolutely. America is still the most powerful nation on the planet and its effect on other nations is enormous. Frighteningly, the other most powerful nations are both run as suspect enterprises – Russia and China. They are not the only nations run by questionable leadership but they are the most serious of such. As they become stronger, they garner support from smaller, similar countries where the general population is supressed to some degree or another.
No, these nations do not threaten us militarily, that option has long gone, but they increasingly press on the economic sphere and that makes their influence even more telling. Consider how many of Britain's resources today are owned or part-owned by China and Russia. As long as the almighty dollar is the world's currency, however, America will still hold its own to the benefit of all nations with claims to being democratic – and that will be for the foreseeable future since, reluctant although they are to accept the power of the dollar, both China and Russia are wrapped up in its well-being. They are owed too much by America to wish the dollar to be drastically reduced in value – as would happen if it lost its elevated position.
All that makes it very concerning as to what is happening in America today. Powerful, self-interested groups bordering on the criminal cannot be allowed to run the States. Yet, since at least John F Kennedy's time, the influence of such has become ever greater. It has long been suspected – strongly suspected – that Jack Kennedy's father used his Mafia connections (and as an illegal beer-runner during prohibition, he had plenty) to help rig the Chicago vote in favour of his son.
In 2000, the state of Florida proved conclusive in gaining the presidency for George W Bush. Controversy still rages over the result as two independent studies, undertaken in 2001, demonstrated that Al Gore had actually won it. There were even claims that a few voters had pushed the 'Al Gore' button on their voting machines and, briefly, the name George W Bush had registered. Apparently, this can be accomplished by (illegally) setting the machine to register one George W Bush vote after so many Al Gore votes have been punched in.
Also, many voters, particularly those from BAME backgrounds (generally Democratic voters) had turned up at the polls to find that they had been deleted from the voter registration roll and could not vote.
Gracefully, Al Gore finally conceded to Bush and, although Bush had some half-million total votes fewer than Gore, Bush had won the Electoral College and thus was declared President. Much the same happened with the Electoral College in 2016, when Donald Trump polled around 63 million votes to Hillary Clinton's 66 million, yet Clinton could only muster 227 Electoral College votes to Trump's 304.
The Electoral College was built-in to the American Constitution as an attempt to defeat an age-old problem as first highlighted to Solon in ancient Athens. That problem was the one of unscrupulous demagogues who would use their rhetorical skills and give false promises to mislead the ignorant, uneducated and illiterate amongst the population in order to gain their vote and then misuse the authority that gave them to enhance their own position − either through the accumulation of wealth or power or both. The Electoral College was an attempt to avoid any ignorant lout from gaining control of a position of massive power by filtering the popular vote through, supposedly, wiser individuals. Judge for yourself how effective the system is today.
How did Trump win? Exit polls are generally considered the most accurate of polls recording, as they do, the actual way in which electors have voted. In 2016, these polls were conducted in 28 states across America and no less than 13 states recorded outcomes beyond the margin of error as forecast by the poll. Astonishingly, the errors were all one way, giving Hillary Clinton more votes in the exit poll than the final outcome displayed.
All these states had used electronic voting machines to some extent or another. Amongst these, 13 were the four crucial states of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida – all had been deemed battleground states.
The exit polls showed that Hillary Clinton had won all these states by, respectively, 2.0%, 4.5%, 3.96% and 4.1%. In voting terms, these were reasonable margins but the actuality was that Trump had won them all – and by margins well beyond the error allowance for this type of poll.
Quite a few commentators called 'fraud' at this time. Yes, there could have been other reasons for the discrepancy – Trump supporters could have generally voted earlier than the others, or they could have used the postal voting system more. Nevertheless, the fact that all these tightly fought states swung so heavily against the exit poll aroused the deepest scepticism and helped fuel the Russian conspiracy theory.
And all that ensures the election of Joe Biden as the new and clean American President is no done deal. And that brings up the immediate change in the situation with regard to the illness of Donald Trump (as I write, just released from hospital – although that means nothing as regards the true state of his health since the White House has considerable medical resources within it).
We have to wish him well and hope he recovers. No person, no matter how ignorant or appalling, deserves COVID-19 or any other illness – even although there is an irony in what Trump spouted about it and his cavalier attitude towards the disease. On a practical level, however, his illness will help his re-election chances. Immediately, it takes him out of the electioneering process and removes his gaffes and idiocies from public notice. There will also be a wave, a very small wave, of sympathy towards him and a few individuals that were undecided, or Republicans that were not going to vote, will turn out to do so. If Trump bounces back from his illness, it will be touted how brave and strong he is – and that also will help him in the over-fervid American election theatre.
If the worst happens and he either succumbs (let's hope not – we want him to stand and Biden to trounce him) or resigns on the grounds of ill-health, then his successor, Mike Pence, will pick up both sympathy votes and Republican votes from those returning to the party and seeing Pence as a much more acceptable and mainstream Republican candidate. There is even the thought that Trump, at heart, does not like being President, although being defeated is even more reprehensible to him. Thus, he lays the groundwork that the election is fraudulent, so, if he is defeated, well it was all fixed against him. That may be a view that only satisfies himself and he may indeed take the opportunity to resign, therefore avoiding the ignominy (in his mind) of defeat. The situation all tells to the detriment of Joe Biden's chances. He may still win − but it will be tough.
What does all this mean for Scotland and the rest of the world? It means a lot. We need an American President who fully understands and appreciates the impending climate change disaster. We need an American President who will fully overhaul the American electoral system to bring credibility to its democratic roots (too many Americans confuse the right of free speech with democracy). We need an American President who understands fair trade and the deals that go with it. We need an American President who uses the enormous military power of that country wisely and with restraint. And we need an American President who will unite the fragmented nation.
We Scots and others can flourish with such a President in the White House and we can fully co-operate. In short, we need an Abe Lincoln – but Joe Biden will do.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow