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America on the verge of a nervous breakdown as election campaign ends

Washington: A chill is in the air in the US capital and so is anxiety. Businesses in downtown Washington are boarded up with plywood – just as they were in the summer when rioting broke out after George Floyd’s death. The White House resembles a fortress. So-called “non-scalable” fencing has been erected around the presidential residence to keep protesters at bay.

National Guard troops are on standby in case of violence. Lawyers are readying for court challenges. A President tells his supporters to expect cheating “like you have never seen” from his political opponents. These aren’t the symptoms of a healthy democracy but a polarised nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Construction workers set up additional fencing near the White House ahead of election day.

Construction workers set up additional fencing near the White House ahead of election day. Credit:Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

The election campaign is over and it’s hard to argue it should have gone on a single day longer. The overwhelming majority of Americans decided long ago what they thought of Donald Trump and whether he deserves another four years in office. The huge early turnout figures reflect worries about voting during a pandemic and the enthusiasm Democrats and Republicans feel about the election. But also a desire to get it over with: they’d made up their minds and didn’t need to hear any more.

Exactly two months ago, Joe Biden held a lead of 7.2 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics national average. Then Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, setting up an unexpected Supreme Court stoush. Trump delivered a belligerent debate performance, interrupting Biden so often that coherent discussion became impossible. After downplaying the virus for months, Trump contracted COVID-19, went to hospital and made a speedy return to the campaign trail. Just a week before election day, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, tilting it further to the right.

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