The Tuesday after the first Monday in November in a leap year is a day like any other in Spain, but in the US it means election day, when the people choose their president thanks to an usual voting system which is unique in the world.
The unusual context of 2020 and the extraordinary presidency of Donald Trump are making this election one of the most important in America’s short history as a country, and the record number of early votes (people can vote in the weeks before election day) is a reflection of that.
Despite being thousands of kilometres away, the American community in Malaga province - about 300 people, according to the population registers - have also been watching the situation closely in the hours leading up to this Tuesday, and apart from one or two exceptions they have already voted.
One, for example, is Lucca Movaldi, who was born in San Diego (although he votes in the state of Nevada). He has been living on the Costa del Sol for over 15 years and makes no secret of the fact that he has voted for the Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden.
“No election has ever divided us as much as this one,” admits this teacher, who agrees with what analysts have been saying for months: this is the most polarised vote in US history.
This situation, supported by surveys that show fewer than ten per cent of voters are undecided, follows four years in which Trump has turned the American political system around.
“In my country anything you say or do in the public sphere and in private reflects on you as a politician and can ruin your career. But now, with Trump, that isn’t the case. We can’t go on like this for another four years because it isn’t good for my country,” says Movaldi.
Johnnie Wadley and Jim Thibault are from Jacksonville (Florida), but they spend part of each year in Ireland and the rest in Fuengirola, where they have had a house for some time. Like their compatriate they are Biden supporters, but in their case any argument in favour of Trump makes them angry.
One of the issues to arise early in the run-up to the election was the president’s famous tax returns, after an exclusive in the New York Times showed that Trump, despite his image of being a rich and successful man, has paid hardly any tax at all in recent years.
For Jim, the fact that he has personally paid more taxes than the president is “incredible”, because it demonstrates two things: either Trump is not as good a businessman as he claims because his companies have no profits, or he has defrauded the country’s tax system.
But not everyone thinks this way. Frazer Gardella was born in Maryland and spent much of his life in the American capital, Washington D.C. For the past 35 years he has lived in Estepona (permanently since 1996), and he is a Trump supporter. He proudly wears an American army tee-shirt under his shirt and maintains that his candidate has paid taxes, and it is his companies that haven’t done so for financial reasons.
“But Trump has been able to correct the failures in the American economy and stop people from outside earning money here. That is what was needed and that’s why I want him to be president,” he says, while his companions raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disagreement.
Political debates apart, something they do all agree on is that their political system is nothing like the one in Spain, which they consider “less interesting”.
“In the United States there are people who don’t have the same opinion about things even though they are in the same party,” says Sue Seabury who, although she was born in the UK, has been an important member of the American community on the Costa del Sol for many years.
Movaldi, who agrees with this, says the system of two major parties “permits more internal diversity”, although he also points out that there are independent candidates, something which is not the case in Spain.
“I don’t want to be alarmist, but four more years of Trump could ruin everything that has ever been established. That has to change, right now,” he says.
Black Lives Matter and Covid
As well as the economy, a subject about which Trump has not had a bad press, this election is marked by the Covid crisis and also everything related to the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM).
With regard to the former, as usual, there are different opinions. The pro-Biden Americans believe that Trump’s management of the health crisis has been “negligent”, while Gardella says it made him emotional to watch the video in which the president returned in triumph to the White House.
“The guy is a hero who has beaten the coronavirus and that makes me proud,” he says.
“I didn’t like the video and I feel safer in Spain than in the US,” responds Johnnie. For this African American from Florida, Trump has only brought violence to the streets, and refers as an example to his “incendiary” statements about BLM. “Nothing like that had ever happened in the US, nobody knows what might happen in the next few months, it’s terrible,” he insists.
Precisely for that reason they all (especially those voting for the democrat candidate) hope that no matter who wins, it will be by a wide margin so those who lost cannot question the result, especially in a context where people have been complaining about problems in being able to vote in recent weeks.
At least all those here have been able to exercise their right to vote, except Frazer, who hasn’t received his ballot paper. “Maybe that was Jim, maybe he has done everything he can to ensure that I can’t vote,” he says, amid laughter.