DUBAI: The deep divide in the US in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election was clearly on display as American expatriates in the Middle East responded to Joe Biden’s poll victory.
For many, there was relief when major networks gave Pennsylvania to the Democrat challenger. By winning the state, Biden took the 20 electoral college votes needed to claim victory over President Donald Trump and become the 46th president of the US.
It also made Trump only the 11th president in the history of the US who has failed to secure a second term.
However, for others, Biden’s claim of victory was premature and, more than 10,000 km from Washington’s halls of power, they were defiantly supporting both Trump’s refusal to concede and his claims of voter fraud in mail-in ballots.
For all Americans in the Middle East, it had been a long five days of anticipation and little sleep with the future of the nation hanging in the balance.
Biden’s supporters in the region expressed dismay at four years of presidential attacks on democratic institutions, the vulnerable, immigrants and religious minorities, together with what they claimed was Trump’s use of division to wield power.
This had resulted in a negative perception of Americans abroad, they said.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ election win has implications for Americans living all over the world,” said Liberty Jones, who is from Washington and is public relations director of luxury retailer Tiffany & Co. “I’ve seen firsthand here in Dubai how the perception of Americans has negatively changed the past four years.
“Trump has made the world question our morality, our respect for our fellow man, and our esteemed position as a country of opportunity and discovery.”
However, on the red side of the divide, some US citizens in the Gulf say they were hoping Trump would remain in the White House, mainly to encourage stability in the Middle East. Iran’s aggressive policies in the region meant they welcomed Trump’s tough stance against Tehran and saw it in sharp contrast to the soft approach of Barack Obama’s administration, in which Biden served as vice president.
Youssef Beydoun, UAE chairman of Republicans Overseas, told Arab News that the election is not over, regardless of what the media say.
“The media does not decide who the president is,” Beydoun said. “Moreover, not all states have finished counting, and there are suspected irregularities and fraud in several states. If we go back in history, we can see that the same scenario took place in 2000 when the media declared Al Gore as the winner and then Bush was officially sworn in as president.”
This was a historic election on many fronts. A record number of Americans voted, with some predictions suggesting the final figure will be almost 160 million. More than 100 million ballots were cast during the early voting period.
Americans abroad expressed pride in such numbers, which they said revealed a country looking for change but also trusting in the democratic process.
“I burst into tears when it was confirmed, honestly. I haven’t slept well since he has been in power,” said Anne-Shelton Aaron, who lives in Cairo and is a former chair of the Democrats Abroad group in Switzerland.
“Trump was a disturbing and destructive force, a bully with no empathy who took away the dignity of his role. I am sad at how much he managed to destroy, how many people supported him in the Republican Party and how many people voted for him.
“I am deeply relieved that we can start the healing process and that the world can see that our democratic system does work, even if it was weakened.”
Joy Buckner, who runs an educational consultancy in Dubai, said: “I’m proud of what happened in my country today, democracy prevailed. A record number of voters turned out to have their voices heard, and all of this during a global health pandemic. It makes me hopeful for the future.”
Buckner said that as a black woman, she was most moved by the election of Harris as the first female vice president.
“For her to be a woman of color brings a feeling of pride that is hard to describe,” she said.
Despite the record voter turnout, the effectiveness of the US voting system was questioned by several expats, who said that electoral reform was essential.
“The results of this election and the way it played out have strengthened my belief that we urgently need electoral reform,” said Jones. “I’m ecstatic that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won — but this is overshadowed by my fear that the antiquated electoral process and gerrymandering will continue to drive division, infighting and political scheming in the country.”
Ali Khalaf, who is from Washington but has lived in Dubai since 2007, said: “When you have the highest number of votes counted for either party, was it a surprise showing by Trump? It’s hard to evaluate.
“Exit polls are not accurate because a lot of the votes that were coming in were absentee votes so can you really exit poll those? This election was ultimately a rejection of Trump. He lost by more than the popular vote that he lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016. We have yet to see Georgia and North Carolina, which also may flip (Democrat).”
Many expats also expressed unease at the challenging road ahead, particularly since Trump is likely to wage legal battles in a bid to cling to the White House.
“Even though we have a new president, Trumpism will be there for a while,” said James Ruiz, a health care company director based in Abu Dhabi.
Originally from New York, Ruiz describes himself as a Republican but voted for Biden in this election.
“Right now, we need to heal and unify the nation, and get past its division,” he said.
“For Biden, it is crucial to get past the challenges of the pandemic, because you can’t build an economy and keep it sustained if you can’t solve the COVID-19 problem. Providing public health care for all throughout the pandemic will be critical to rebuilding, growing and sustaining the economy.
“Biden has 100 days and needs to prove he can do this very quickly.”
Michele Tarnow, originally from New York and now working as CEO of Alliance Care Technologies in Dubai, said the divisions in the US cannot be overestimated.
“Trump has severed for now the ability of people to have civil conversations,” she said. “This also impairs the ability to look for real solutions to problems.
“The calls for social justice that emerged after the world watched the death of George Floyd have been met with division fueled by Trump.”
Tarnow added that Biden and Harris “have their work cut out to build bridges” while stemming the rise of COVID-19.