Thoughts on the US Election 2020

by Prof. Dr. Andreas Suchanek | December 04, 2020
Joe Biden has won the 2020 US presidential election. A democrat who seeks not to divide but unify after Donald Trump undermined the principles of respect and truth over the last years. Is the U.S. still a beacon of hope?

US election 2020–a beacon of hope?
A commentary by Prof. Dr. Andreas Suchanek

This commentary was first published by Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism

US Americans have voted. I guess, people all around the world observed the outcome with bated breath. So did I and I would like to share a rather personal impression of this election. To start with November 4, when I had the first look at the election results as they were known by that time, I was devastated. Although I knew that counting the ballots of the postal votes might considerably change the picture, which they did, the fact that so many Americans voted for Trump made me deeply sad, even scared me. Let me briefly explain why, using the metaphor of a game:

A game consists of actions that are coordinated by the rules of the game – without rules, no game. Good rules do not determine the actions but create a framework which enables the players to play the game. And they help to cope or mitigate conflicts that may always happen on the field.

Respect is the basis of trust which is the basis of reliable cooperation which is the basis of sustainable value creation which is the basis of a good society.

But rules do only work when they are properly understood, accepted and observed, that is, when they are rooted in a shared understanding how to play the game. Put differently: a fair and sustainable game – or sustainable value creation in society – needs to be based on a sufficiently shared understanding of mutual respect, including respect for the rules and values which constitute the game and enable cooperation as well as respect for the truth, as manifested in free media and science. In short: respect is the basis of trust which is the basis of reliable cooperation which is the basis of sustainable value creation which is the basis of a good society.

Sure enough, conflicts occur, but in functioning democracies (and economies) they are embedded in rules and a culture – a shared understanding – which allows to handle them in a civilized way. However, problems, even deep destructive conflicts, will occur if an understanding of the game proliferates that is only focused on winning, whatever the cost. Those actors might try to use every trick in the box not to lose; they might ‘test the limits’, bend the rules, and be willing to harm others by lies, threats, or undermining those rules and structures which might prevent their ‘winning’. And whenever they have ‘won’ or at least breached some rule or standard without getting sanctioned, the risk is that this kind of behavior is normalized, maybe even accepted as “that’s the way how the game is actually played, isn’t it”. This, however, is the path to a lose-lose game.

Donald Trump has demonstrated over decades that he is focused on winning, no matter how harmful this may be to others, to fair competition or democratic institutions, to social norms or the ethical values of respect and truthfulness; and he has demonstrated this attitude over the last four years to the whole world as the top representative of the United States of America. In this election, this understanding of the game was also on the ballot, as it were, since the democratically elected (federal) government represents the collective understanding of the electorate. My sadness grew out of the perception that many million American citizens send the signal that they support, maybe unconsciously, an understanding of a game which destroys trust and hence collaboration (in a time where we need both more than ever).

Donald Trump has demonstrated over decades that he is focused on winning, no matter how harmful this may be to others.

Most certainly it is (for me) a beacon of hope that the President-elect represents a very different understanding of the game, but still it hurts. And then I remembered this (adapted) sentence which I stumbled upon some years ago: “The true mark of maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation”. Since a shared understanding, based on respect, including the respect for the truth, is the basis for the game called good society.