Peter Dunne reflects on the ongoing US presidential election and the uncertainties ahead

Peter Dunne reflects on the ongoing US presidential election and the uncertainties ahead

By Peter Dunne*

Any complaints about the twists and turns of New Zealand’s MMP electoral system pale into insignificance alongside the Byzantine intricacies of an American Presidential election.

For many of us, the 2000 Presidential election where the eventual outcome was decided by a narrow 5-4 vote in the United States Supreme Court, and where words like “hanging chads” entered the political lexicon, was the most bizarre on record. However, it has almost certainly been surpassed by the weird happenings of the 2020 election.

While the United States has often been the country most love to criticise because of its dominant, and sometimes controversial, role in international and economic affairs, it has nonetheless been fundamentally and frequently grudgingly respected for its overall commitment to participatory democracy. Until 2018, for example, there was even a county in Vermont where the local dog catcher was elected by a public vote!

However, a fair measure of the gloss of America’s democratic veneer has been rubbed off by the antics of the Trump Administration since 2017. From the abuse of many of the traditional relationships between the Executive and Legislative Branches of government, through to the stacking of the Supreme Court with conservative Justices who will shape the direction and role of the Court for decades to come, the Trump Administration has consistently worked to undermine the traditional separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government and to subjugate those to the transitory political authority of the White House.

As such, it has deliberately and blatantly attempted to undermine the whole American system of government. The Founding Fathers envisaged a constitutional structure not dissimilar to that in place in eighteenth century England, with the role of the President (the King) no longer unfettered but constrained by the authority of the Constitution. The Trump Administration’s approach has been to assert the role of the President in a manner equivalent to the eighteenth-century King of England, which the American War of Independence had been a reaction to.

Even against this backdrop of a deliberate and concerted attempt to realign the American system of government so blatantly in favour of the President, President Trump’s extraordinary conduct in the early hours of the morning after the election surpassed most reasonable expectations. His premature victory claim and demand that all other vote-counting cease, were not altogether a surprise. But his threat to seek the intervention of his hand-picked Supreme Court if he did not get his way shocked many as going far too far, for even loyal colleagues like the Republican Majority Leader in the Senate. Former President Barack Obama had earlier described the possibility of such a response by the President as the actions of a “two-bit dictator”, a surely unprecedented description by any American President of the man who succeeded him in office.

At this stage, it looks likely that former Vice President Biden will emerge as at least the interim winner of this year’s Presidential election. He will be a more orthodox and traditional President than President Trump with a strong focus on restoring the integrity of the Constitution and America’s place and perception in the world after the Trump Presidency. Many will breathe a huge sigh of relief at that.

However, it is unlikely to be that simple. Even if all the threatened legal actions by the Trump camp are disposed of and the result that now looks likely stands, there is no guarantee about how President Trump will react in  the remaining two and bit months of his tenure. During that time, an outgoing President retains the full authority of his office, but normally co-operates, sometimes awkwardly and unwillingly, with the President-elect and his transition team. There is usually the staged event of the President and the President-elect and their wives meeting at the White House, and an unspoken commitment to make the change of administration process as smooth as possible.

It seems highly unlikely after this year’s campaign that any of that will occur in the event of a Biden Administration. Nor is there even any certainty that at 12:00 pm on January 20, 2021, the appointed day and hour on which the next Administration is sworn in, President Trump will actually vacate the Oval Office. The prospect of one President being sworn in at the Capitol while the other remains barricaded in the White House seems extraordinary enough but the fact that many United States commentators have been speculating about what would happen in such a situation shows how unreal the world of Presidential politics has become under President Trump.

What is clear, though, is that America remains a deeply divided country. The social, cultural and economic divisions so grossly exacerbated by the conduct of the Trump Administration will remain for the foreseeable future. These go far beyond the intricacies of the Presidential election system and are unlikely to be overturned during a four-year term of office. Nevertheless, progress towards resolving these and refocusing the American dream looks far more likely under a Biden Administration than under four more years of Trumpian upheaval and excess.

The simple hope has to be that after all the election dramas that have dominated this year the President’s focus shifts after January 20 next year to dealing equitably with these more fundamental issues.  

*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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(Comrade Trump, Just hang in there. Chinese people support you!)

Ok now I'm confused.


The Chinese (And Russians) are loving Trump because he's basically destroying democracy and it makes their leaders look good.

Obviously. It's the entire motivation for the Russian election interference.

It's worse than that. He has promised not to start any wars, which means China can do whatever they want in the South China sea and Russia can keep hold of the Ukraine without interference and pretty much do whatever they want in Syria.

Economically Trumps horrific handling of the pandemic has caused mass economic upheaval, with the deficit (already expanded under Trump to around 1 trillion before the pandemic), now likely to be 3.3 trillion. Which basically means the government is borrowing 10k per year per citizen. The more they print, they worse it gets for them, even though it looks better for the sharemarket.

China and Russia absolutely love an idiot in Chief. Which is why they support him so much.

Én is tudok külföldiül írni, csak épp senkit nem érdekel.
(I can write comments in a foreign language too, but nobody cares)

Is that Klingon?

If only... that would explain my thick skull.
It's Hungarian.

I was close

"The gloss of America’s democratic veneer has been rubbed off by the antics of the Trump Administration since 2017."
Don't you think that has happened, relentlessly, over the last 4 years? Not from the Trump Administration; love it or hate it, but by the non-stop, never-ending, day-in-day-out persecution of Trump by the Democrats and (most of the GOP) in an endeavour to enforce "Never Trump!"?
No wonder he's paranoid about what's going or not going on at the moment! He's had 4 years of what can only be described as political and personal torture. How he's survived it in one piece ( maybe that's what we are seeing? The results of 24/7 hounding by all and sundry); how he kept go9ing 20 hours a day for months on the campaign trail, is beyond me.
I hope I have that much stamina at 74!
The Big Question, though remains:
Who is Kamala going to choose as her VP?


One might have sympathy if it wasn't entirely self-inflicted. Yes there are lots of people who are very anti-Trump, but only because he's a morally bankrupt narcissist whose only guiding principle is his own self-interest.

Trumps not just morally bankrupt, he's financially bankrupt too, to the tune of $1 Billion!!! Who on earth would be stupid enough to vote for some one like that? Apart from all his other flaws and failings. Americans are a laughing stock now, they might be able to retain some shred of dignity if Biden becomes president.
Forbs article: Donald Trump Has At Least $1 Billion In Debt, More Than Twice The Amount He Suggested.

Trumps not just morally bankrupt, he's financially bankrupt too, to the tune of $1 Billion

Yes, but this is really the thinking as to how most people are taught to build wealth in the past 30 years. Look at the NZ rentier economy.

"Persecution"?? I'm assuming that you do understand the fundamental constitutional principle that underpins US democracy: the separation of powers/checks and balances; to avoid a concentration of power in any one branch of government (executive, legislative, judicial). Trump has attempted to run the country the same way as one of his companies, which is why he's copped so much grief. The man invokes the constitution one moment, then runs roughshod over it the next as he sees fit. No wonder there's been push-back by members of his own party and beyond.

Trump's extension of executive power is the end result of a trend that began in earnest during the Nixon presidency. Cheney came out of that era and famously extended executive power during the second Bush presidency. Cheney's disaffection with the legislature came about when President Ford was forced to testify before Congress post-Watergate. He thought it demeaned the presidency. The current crop of Trumpian Republicans are his children.

Please, take a long, hard, honest look at how Trump is behaving now, and how he has always behaved. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if this person is fit for the highest office in America.

Well you seem to be forgetting that in 2016 a majority of Electorate states thought so and now in 2020 only a very slim majority stands in his way now. It is not for NZrs who only see and hear what they're fed by MSM to make decisions based on an incomplete picture. Either that or you have to admit that basically 50% of American voters are complete inbred 12 toed trailertrash. ( which tbh, watching the newsfeed footage lately seems somewhat accurate in a large part)


Politicians are always screwing up, remember when you let synthetic cannabis into our low income communities?

The group behind Biden (Biden is a mere puppet) - will now be seen as illegitimate by a large number of Americans.
A great reset is coming in US politics with a potential breakup of the Union States.
Trump has done his job of exposing the political class for what they are - greedy, incompetent and criminal.

Trump's presence will be felt for many years to come - in the US and around the world.

Thank you for your shallow comment - please put your tin foil hat on. In a few years it may Trump who ? (just saying......)

> Trump's presence will be felt for many years to come

This I agree with. He certainly has a certain touch. The closeness of the election is in many ways amazing -- imagine if he had handled the pandemic with even the slightest hint of competence?

Actually I don't think his handling of the pandemic or anything else that has happened has anything to do with what is happening in the US. It is more fundamental / basic than that. Not yet 100% sure of what that is but suspect it is that the world is changing.

Looking at Trumps behavior regarding the election, he's certainly become a Tin Pot Dictator trying desperately to hold on to power.

"Trump has done his job of exposing the political class for what they are - greedy, incompetent and criminal." I agree with this although it is somewhat ironic isn't it? - A greedy, incompetent and criminal class exposed for who they are by a greedy, incompetent criminal who isn't one of them? (That 'criminal' bit is contentious generally as neither side could be where they are if actually convicted of something)

Trump is just an extreme manifestation of a long standing problem. Some Republican somewhere said at some point that Trump is like the chemo that is needed to kill the cancer. Chemo is a cure almost as bad as the disease. I think this is probably a very accurate metaphor.

Trump is toxic, like chemo is toxic. But he is supported and voted for because he might save a dying body. Unfortunately Trump chemo has been an overdose. He has gone way above the healthy dose and hence why Biden has 4 million more votes. All this is so very predictable. Look what happened after the invention of the printing press! New tech that amplifies communication is initially met with natural naivety. We are being manipulated left and right and from all sides and the legislature/regulators are waaaaay behind the curve. The invention of the internet was met with naive enthusiasm that it would democratise knowledge and break down barriers... but 30 years later... we have hyper partisanship and misinformation, much like we had initially after other leaps in tech that amplified communication.

We like to think that we are all so savvy and objective, but much of our decision making is made way below what we experience as our conscious thinking process. We are easily manipulated. Several social media platforms are designed with understanding of psychology and neurology to better manipulate us.

And then once you have such a tool of manipulation, and when the regulators and legislature is behind the advances... we are at the mercy of whoever gains the best control of that tool. The left and right have both abused it. Trump is a symptom of the problem. As are many movements on the far left. It's ugly across the spectrum.

Tribalism is not new. Social media and digital technologies may have created new platforms for tribalism, and made them a lot more easily observable. I think the biggest change that has happened in the west is the end of the Soviet Union that helped uniting most of the otherwise warring tribes for a time. But as soon as the big enemy tribe was gone, the peace pacts were broken.

Tribalism isn't new, but it's being amplified, so that we have political hyper-partisanship, which makes for ugly politics and sometimes wars. Tribes change, they grow, shrink or alter the rules as to who are members and who isn't. That is besides the point. It is the behaviour and what triggers the behaviour that is universal rather than the specifics of a particular grouping or geography.

Once about a time, the region of France was occupied by Gauls. But the movement of the tribes from the Steppes caused a massive migration of Germanic tribes West. The Franks were Germanic. But now they are the French. Do French consider themselves German? Hell no. Wars were fort over it and then in the 1970's they decided they would try and dissolve the difference between them and become one big nation. Kinda.
At several points in history Russia has considered herself European. Certainly a huge part of the genetic material of most of Europe has come from Steppe nomads. Russian language is Indo-European. The arbitrary distinctions we make about nations, languages and identities are constructed. They are what we believe them to be at a particular moment, based on a very short and distorted memory. We look at superficial markers to distinguish ourselves and "other" a different group. We keep doing it. And when that reaches a certain fever pitch, we use it as an excuse to kill each other. Amplifying tribalism is dangerous for that reason. Our history as a species is one of war but war only happens when sufficient people have been convinced to hate, dismiss or wish to dominate another group. We can look at unique or specific geo-political issues and blame them as the cause of our problems but ultimately it is human nature amplified to its worst excesses that are always at the root.


To those who castigate Trump, think about why he got elected in the first place.
It's not TRUMP!! that's the problem, it's the way our economic and social setting have prompted him to get elected in the first place.
"Never Trump!!" isn't an expression of political ideology.
It's an economic determination to NEVER allow Trump or anyone else who has the temerity to be another Trump; to DARE to take over the running of a political system designed to benefit and enrich a select few to the cost of the vast many.
The Democrats, who will likely take power, are the representatives of the Working Class, however, that's defined in the USA. Working Class people like Jeff Bezos.....and not those who actually work in his Amazon sweatshops. They will do as they are told - or else.
They are the ones that voted for Trump last time, and one way or another, their voices have bee quieted


I mostly agree. Trump definitely promised to address the problems of this demographic, but he didn't really deliver on that. Trump isn't a real friend to the working classes, he's a tax avoiding elite like the rest of them. If he had really been what he advertised himself to be, maybe he could have "drained the swamp" but he was a Democrat 5 minutes ago. Just another opportunist demigogue that saw an opening to power and influence. He very superfically snubs the elites by not behaving in a dignified, respectable Presidential manner and his followers mistake that for him being one of them. But he isn't even slightly one of them, or interested in their plight. He isn't even really Christian or pro-life or conservative even. He successfully captured their hopes that he was the person they needed. But Trump doesn't care about America. He has proven that many times.

Yes yes yes. His knack is to tap into that resentment, and that it exists is a real problem. But Trump doesn't really care, nor is he fixing it -- it's just a vehicle by which he can attain power.

Could be.
But at some stage in most of our lives, we all ask ourselves "What's it all about?. Is it just money; power?"
Greg Newbold is a good example. I don't dismiss what he says now just because he was a drug-dealing criminal in his past.
Whatever Trump is personally, 70 million Americans see him as a better alternative to what they've been dished up for so long.
Some of them travelled for up to 14 hours; to stand in the cold at midnight on his last campaign speech to listen to him for an hour and changed their chant from a brief "4 more years" to "We love you".
Whether that was because they believed him, or just plain believe in him, only matters in so much as they don't want what the alternative is.
I haven't spoken to anyone who thinks Biden is up to the task ahead of him, and Kamal Harris got exactly zero votes from her fellow Democrats in the polling to see who would be better than Biden.
Trump may not be the answer to what ails America, and most of the rest of us. But Biden certainly isn't. But he was never meant to be. That he isn't Trump is all that matters.
And now No One will any alternative views will have the stupidity to go against the Political Machine in the USA. Ross Perot found that out a while back, and now any future Pretender has been suitably reminded.

I think you are overstating the case bw. Most Americans always vote either Republican or Democratic, regardless of who the candidate is. They're not making an objective decision, it's tribal loyalty, mostly based on heavily biased beliefs. Every election hinges on flipping states by a small margin. Sometimes its is closer than others.

I also think you need to look at a much wider picture. What we also need to remember is that there is a millennia old struggle between "conservatives" and "progressives". Look at some of the speeches of Ancient Greece or Rome. Read the arguments across the world over the last 4000 years (where we have them recorded). This isn't some new problem, there is nothing new about this at all. We keep fooling ourselves that whatever our existing problems are, they are new and unique. But they aren't. The same themes, the same personalities and movements happen on repeat. The may have unique features to the era, whatever is relevant/pertinent to the time, but the fundamental theme is the same.

Most of history we see extremely steep wealth and power hierarchies. The brief period after WW2 before financial liberalisation when there was rising equality, was anomalous and related to a rare confluence of factors (Industrialisation, war related tech advances, war rebuild etc). We saw similar periods of anomalous equality after other big upheavals (The Black Death) etc but they never last. Human beings will always seek to selfishly hoard power and wealth. Fashions of beliefs and values come and go, but greed and lust for power are in our evolutionary make up, they are ever green.

The only way we can limit the excesses of that repeating cycle is to create regulation and legal structures that limit the ability of power and wealth concentration, in a way that it can't be easily dismantled. In America they have a hugely corrupt lobby system. I don't see Trump lifting a finger to change that dynamic. He's every bit the nepotist.

Isn't tapping into problems of demographics, without actually delivering anything promised, the hallmark of all politicians? Trump does appeal to human ugliness more than your average politician, he also shows his absolute incompetency with much more gusto than other properly trained politicians. Your standard politicians are learned to pretend to competency as they are often trusted to run matters well beyond their actual competency merits.

Yes exactly. There are very few exceptions really. It's just that atm there is hyper-partisanship and emotions running higher than usual. Trump has succeeded in evoking lots of big feelings but not towards anything that will bring about any kind of positive change. It's all bread and circuses, very superficial. His supporters strongly believe he is different to other politicians and he certainly isn't part of the political establishment but he is every bit a crooked, greedy, dishonest and deluded as the worst examples of politicians we have ever seen.
I look at pictures of Trump buddying up with Bill Clinton and Epstein and don't see a radical, revolutionary man of the people. Just someone who knows how to milk celebrity in an age of celebrity and a clever opportunist who is drunk of attention.

I wonder if the Americans understood how the world actually saw them, that the leaders in the UN were actually laughing AT Trump, not with him, and the PMs of Canada, UK and France were deriding him, whether they would actually change their behaviour?

I have been to the states and was very surprised as to exactly how insular they were. So some of this is not surprising.

He is likely to stay on as president via legal challenges on voting irregularities and then later on possibly via the Supreme Court.

Just about possible maybe, but certainly not likely.

Then who is stealing the election.......

Not past Jan 20 (I think that's the date). If the result is not settled, the Speaker of the House, currently Nancy Pelosi becomes Acting Pres. Now she's a Democrat, so lets watch the scrambles to unseat her now as the Republicans try to protect their power.

... the democrats control the house? I agree there's an outside chance of her being ousted, though not really before the next term, and certainly not to be replaced by anyone but another democrat.

Nah MortgageBelt, you need to get on Republican Twitter and see how many of them are condemning and turning on Trump already. He is threatening their entire democracy with his hyperbole. Trump is a dead man walking. He doesn't even have the support of Fox News now!

The only way Trump keeps the presidency is if it turns out that there really is miraculous widespread election fraud and that is just magical thinking.

In 2000, when everyone got their knickers in a twist over the last very, very tight race and the Florida recount had us all forced to look at "hanging chads" what was the actual result? Somewhere around 500 votes out of 6 million had been miscounted. Which wasn't fraud, it was just human error.

Trump can force the recount but fraud on the scale he is alleging just isn't possible with all the scrutiny they have for their system. If anything Trump shot himself in the foot, trying to build this silly narrative about postal vote fraud in advance and telling his supports not to vote by post. He may have actually received more votes if he hadn't have insisted they all vote on the day **in a pandemic**.

Mass mail out unsolicited ballots? And no ID verification? Dead men voting Democratic? Bundles of 100% ballots for Biden?
Well, it will need to be a very good coverup.

Nahh total rubbish. If Trump keeps demanding a recount of votes, that again will be in Bidens favor.

Yes you're right Ginger, Even Trumps sons have been attacking the Republican party. His eldest son Don Jr accused the party of being "weak". His brother Eric warned: "Our voters will never forget you if your [sic] sheep!" Looks like they're trying to bail on Trump already. BBC US results: Trump sons attack Republicans for 'weak' backing.

At least Trump has sown the seeds of"draining the swamp" and now its up to some third party to rise from the turmoil and do it.
They voted Trump in because they wanted change and the fact that Clinton was hated now they have returned people like Biden,Feinstein'Pelosi, Schumer and Sanders into power.
It will be porkbarrell politics at its best.

Trump did zero to advance the cause of 'draining the swamp', unless you count making it even swampier. The trope of an outsider coming in to 'clean up' Washington far predates DT's stint in politics.

Neither Democrats, nor Republicans are what America needs is far to out of kilter with the rest of the World.

Like us.

It is like saying Labour will fix all that ails us, when voted in last term after National.

National caused problems, in their reign ... Labour never fixed em in theirs, they just did better with Covid, so got re-elected...

Covid did not cause what is wrong with the World, but it has shown how out of touch with reality most Politicians are....They cannot fix things financially either....

Throwing money at a problem is new school thinking......from the last great reset.....

The nutters will try anything to keep the Ball Rolling, ever upwards. Orr is just another of the behind the scenes trolls who "Think" they know best.. Housing being the main drag, of us all....sorry, that was DRUG......of the multi-millionaire, Trillionaire debt initiators. Banking on things, never ending......the Printing Machine is in full flow....111111111111's and Zeroooooooooo.....thanks a bunch.

Oh is OK, until the Merry Go Round stops.....the Fun Fair has kept us all entertained for decades....some even think they are rich beyond all understanding....until the penny drops...and the planes stop flying and the beer stops flowing and the Hospitals fill above all comprehension....and we keep voting in Socialists and Dreamers and Trumped up....Charges cost us all zero,zero.01000%.

Christmas is coming the Goose is getting Fat, please put a penny in the Old Mans hat.....No, make that 10,000, per head of population, in debt.

Nuts to you all.....Further Christmas, Further in Debt.....Further from the Truth, Further into the realms of Ignorance and Stupidity.

Blind sided by a bunch of Twits, Libs, Dems, Rebubs, Loves Labours Lost, National Debt and Green Grow two fingers OWE.

No different, Debt is free, we is Handcuffed to the rise of idiots....and it all started with a big Bang......and it might end that way, if we are all not Careful. Cos they got you, Buy the Shorts and Curly's...Hair today, Haircut Tomorrow.......a Bald Statement, when the Banks, go.....PHUTT.

Negative, I am Bloody Livid.........remember some idiot who thought this was all a Capital they all thought...print and be damned.
1987 I think it all never ending. MMT....funny munny....but some of ain't laughing.

Thanks ORR and Fed and all other creators of Dreams....Borrow...Borrow, State your is all free..for all......until...the Fall.

Tax free naturally....yeah Right.????.

Yeah they got political change from a democracy to a dictatorship. Many dictatorships have faux elections that change nothing. The real test of a nation’s political system is whether politicians respect the will of the voters. Trump clearly has no respect for the American people (Or anyone else for that matter), and is desperately trying to cling on to power.

Personally I think he is a Klingon, clinging on to Power, but the fuse gave out on the spaced out ship of reality TV.

Wakey Wakey World....still not Woke...up to real, reality....but some Banks are losing their marbles...getting a bit rocky out there.

He certainly looks the part with all that bronzer. ;) Ohh... Biden is now at 264! Trump still on 214.

ngakonui gold, I see it slightly differently, I would say that Trump, an adept celebrity opportunist, picked up that "drain the swamp" was what the people wanted and so he manipulated that to his advantage to gain power.

But he didn't actually drain the swamp. He hasn't done anything to address lobby group corruption or address mass tax fraud. He isn't even really a conservative. If anything he has been just as nepotistic as the other political "dynasties" by appointing his own family members to positions of office, which we usually just call nepotism.

America does desperately need someone to drain the swamp. As do many countries. Hopefully, the clarion call for anti-corruption and anti-elitism can be heard and responded to by someone who isn't a delusional, narcissist demigogue though?

Adept celebrity opportunist. I like that. He certainly is.

In this case I don't think he deserves much credit though. The outsider-coming-to-clean-up-Washington bit was pretty obvious for him.

Trump is a swamp all by himself

More banal writing from Peter Dunne.

Trump won't last till jan 20th.If he doesnt walk, he will be pushed. Most telling is him saying , we were all ready to celebrate my win, then"THEY" stopped it. "they" wasnt the democrat party, it was the GOP reigning him in.

I still think Trump and his supporters will go without any real violence or chaos. But I am not sure how many realize that had Trump won we would have almost certainly seen rioting, looting and violence on an almost unimaginable scale.
Both sides are very divisive, which is inevitably the effect of tribalisation and identity politics. Hopefully NZ is watching and learning from this mistake.

"Even against this backdrop of a deliberate and concerted attempt to realign the American system of government so blatantly in favour of the President .." Bush jnr didn't do that?