Let’s start with the most important thing—Trump lost. They may not have officially called it yet at the time of this post, but they will. And that’s huge. For many voters, that was their #1 issue. Certainly, that was the #1 issue for me. I have friends who said the Senate was more important. I disagree. Trump’s presidency was too toxic and too dangerous, and I’m so relieved that it’s soon to be over.
But I’m also disappointed. Not because I thought this was going to be the second coming of the Blue Wave. I was skeptical about Florida, doubtful about Iowa and Ohio, and never really believed that Democrats were poised to flip Texas this time around. But I did expect Florida to be closer, and I didn’t expect Michigan and Wisconsin to be close. I may not have expected a Biden landslide, but I did expect a more definitive Biden win.
I expected that because of the polls, which once again, proved to be garbage. And I don’t want to hear about “margins of error” or how even an 89% probability of a Biden win—as projected by 538—leaves an 11% chance for a Trump victory that didn’t even happen anyway so technically the polls were right! Wrong. Just like in 2016, the polls grossly misled Americans on what we were to expect from the 2020 election, and in doing so, again helped to validate the misleading narrative propagated by Trump that otherwise credible journalistic institutions are purveyors of “fake news” and not to be trusted. I should also add that I have no idea what’s wrong with the polls or how to fix them. But it’s not my job to know that. It’s the pollsters’ job, and their bad at it.
Like many Americans watching on election night, I began to feel that this was 2016 all over again—hope flaring up and then slowly burning out in swing state after swing state as polls closed across the country. Safe to say that when I passed out drunk and despondent on my couch a little before midnight, I was terrified that I would awake to four more years of Trump’s America.
In hindsight, I should have been more patient. After all, I can’t even count the number of times in the weeks leading up to the election that I was told that we probably wouldn’t have a clear winner on election night, and that those early results might be skewed towards Trump due to the politics around mail-in voting. But when you combine the terrible polling, my 2016 PTSD, and the fact that I’ve been anxiously anticipating this election for a few days short of four years, it was kind of hard to be chill.
So, while Biden’s next-day emergence did eliminate the realization of my worst nightmare, a significant part of me is still really disappointed with what are now mostly the final results. Here’s why:
Donald Trump may have been defeated, but Trumpism was not. My hopefulness that this election would result in a resounding rejection of the toxic ideology of which Trump is both a cause and a symptom, proved to be overly-optimistic. Barring a sudden surge of integrity from the Republican Party, Trumpism is probably here to stay, if not as the dominant ideology of the modern American right, certainly as a powerful and influential strand.
The razor-thin margins in so many states also enabled Trump to carry out what is potentially the most destructive outcome of this election—the further subversion of public faith in our democratic institutions. Trump’s Thursday night press conference was despicable, but it was hardly surprising. He’s been transparently laying the groundwork of this ploy for months, calling into question the validity of mail-in voting, particularly in the “Democrat-run” cities that would predictably turn out against him. He is now seeking to reap the benefits of his own propaganda, and unfortunately, his supporters are buying into it, and establishment Republicans are shamefully going along with it. A sad irony from a man who kicked off his presidency under the slogan “American First”, and is now selfishly doing everything in his power to leave the country cripplingly divided in his wake.
It’s also worth noting that the antics we’re seeing from Trump and his supporters are different and much more damaging than anything we saw from Democrats after Trump’s 2016 victory. Democrats certainly weren’t happy with the results of that election, and remain frustrated with a system that continues to give the electoral advantage to their political opponents, but they did not conspiratorially question the system that produced those results. The electoral college may be bullshit, but it’s the system we got, and Trump won it fair and square. Most Democrats could admit that. And while the impeachment and attempted removal of Donald Trump was perhaps a bit more conspiratorial, evidence-based allegations against an individual president and his campaign team are not nearly as unprecedented or dangerous as Trump’s evidence-less indictment of our entire democratic process (For the record, I never supported the Trump impeachment. I always preferred to remove Trump from office the same way he got in—democratically).
Speaking of democratic institutions, it brings up what I think is one of the biggest questions that we as a country need to answer following this election—do we want to be a real democracy yet, or what? If we truly believe that the right to vote is so goddamn important, are we ready to start treating it that way? I’m not even talking about the electoral college. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to get rid of it, and based on some of the demographic shifts we’re starting to see in states like Arizona, Texas, and Georgia, perhaps Republicans should be considering getting rid of it, too.
But what I’m talking about is making voting easier and more accessible for all. Mail-in voting should not be controversial. It has been and continues to be a convenient and reliable way to extend greater opportunity to vote to more of the American electorate. That is not to say that we shouldn’t work hard to ensure its authenticity and security. We should, and despite the president’s baseless claims of widescale fraud, we do.
And how is Election Day not a federal holiday?!?!? What a joke. That legislation should pass Congress tomorrow without so much as a combative blink. I mean, how can we call ourselves the world’s greatest democracy when people still need to rush to the polls over their lunch break? Unless, of course, those people can instead vote early. Or by mail…
And this one is on Republicans. That’s not a partisan take—it’s just a fact. Republicans want to make this country less democratic (small “d”), which, to be fair, can be a defensible position. I for one am not one of those, “no matter what, make sure you vote” people. I want you to vote if you think like I do, but if you don’t, I’m perfectly happy to let you stay home. I’m also not a fan of uninformed voting. If you don’t feel qualified to vote in a particular election or on a particular race, then maybe you shouldn’t? Like, if I don’t know anything about the two people running for judge in District Random Number-Random Letter, then I probably shouldn’t put my thumb on the scale. Yet, how many local races were swung this year by uninformed voters randomly circling the names of candidates due to some misguided sense of civic responsibility?
But Republicans are antidemocratic for all the wrong reasons. They know that the poor and underprivileged are less likely to vote for them, so they purposefully make it more difficult for those people to vote, mostly by exploiting the fact that they’re poor and underprivileged. Again, how can we call ourselves the world’s greatest democracy when the people most screwed by the system are the same people who experience the most obstacles in casting a vote to change that system?
Unfortunately, opportunities for electoral reform—or any other Democratic initiatives—may be limited due to the underwhelming performance of Democrats in down-ballot races. And while I’ll maintain that the presidency was the most important prize for Democrats in this election, their probable inability to flip the Senate dramatically limits what they can do with that prize (still holding out hope, Georgia!!!)
But I want to end on a positive note—something that’s got lost midst all the noise of rollercoaster results and Trump temper tantrums. That something is Kamala Harris. Kamala Harris is the daughter of immigrants. Kamala Harris is a woman of color. And Kamala Harris is the first female vice president in the history of the United States of America. That deserves to be celebrated.
If nothing else, I hope we can all recognize that. That just for a moment, we can take off our partisan hats, collectively rise to our feet, and give that American accomplishment the standing ovation it deserves. No matter what you think of Kamala the politician, she represents progress for this country. She represents the long overdue culmination of a decades-long effort by both parties to put a woman on a successful presidential ticket. For millions of young girls across the country and the globe, and especially for young black and brown girls, she represents a transcendence of what is even possible. You can oppose Kamala’s agenda tomorrow, but tonight, you should celebrate her. If we’re able to do that, especially for people who did not vote for the Biden-Harris ticket, perhaps we can begin the work of healing this country after an incredibly divisive end to an incredibly divisive presidency. It’s my sincere hope that a significant slice of the 69 million voters and counting that went for Trump can demonstrate that ability. But if not, things might get uglier before they get better.