Amid results that will require more days to finalize, it was the American voter last night who emerged as the big winner—indeed the only winner up until Donald Trump decided that he had won and tried to kick over the whole table.
After all, it was the dedicated individual voter who proved willing to stand in line in time for hours during a public contagion, to put up with widespread Republican efforts to squash the vote, to accept endless Democratic email solicitations, to ignore tons of misleading advertising – all in the name of maintaining some sense of democracy.
That Americans took the moment seriously is worth its moment.
But now an impatient Trump has decided that he can’t wait for counting actual votes, and has launched us unceremoniously into a tangle of legal challenges and possibly serious constitutional crisis.
Still, yesterday was showing us anew that we are so divided as a country that despite days of huge early voting, we couldn’t easily decide on the actual contest. Voters could not do the one thing that the election was supposed to settle – consider whether the Trump approach was good or bad.
Instead, the Election Day turnout once again turned America’s Republican White rural counties against diverse Democratic urban strongholds.
In those rare moments when the talking heads stopped the noise, we could see that Trump had effectively turned out his forces with a campaign that cared more about ground game than care about coronavirus. And Democrats did not turn out in Atlanta and Miami in the numbers they needed to offset those rural votes.
We could understand that Joe Biden, who had been said to have lots of paths to 270 Electoral College votes was down to a pretty singular shot: As battleground state after state fell into place for Donald Trump through the night, the outcome finally was going to land right in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all the places requiring us to wait a few more days. It might hand on a single electoral vote from Omaha, we were told,
I’m sure I was not alone in entering the night thinking that a huge turnout meant that there was a majority out there that wanted to separate fact from propaganda, to recognize there remains a place for morality in public life, to stand up to say, “Enough.”
Instead, as the night dragged on, it seemed much more believable that the Trump fear campaign against some kind of perceived takeover of White America by people of color, an un-real believed danger of “socialism” and maybe buying that Trump is better at creating jobs.
It’s not over yet, of course. I don’t care about waiting another day for the votes – though I do care about waiting through a series of legal cases with no apparent merit in a bald attempt to stop the ball game in the seventh inning.
And I am upset about the evenness of the split in all those states.
One couldn’t help but see this night as a parallel to Hillary Clinton’s election meltdown four years ago. For lightning to strike twice seemed highly improbable, but there we were at the end of the night with a decent chance that Trump can get a judgment in the next day or two to keep him in office—if he just lets people do their jobs. .
Though Trump himself had debased the idea of counting all the outstanding ballots in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and the others, he too needs these votes to win reelection. Instead, he just asserts it.
What is certain about the election results is that they tell us little as a nation about what direction Americans want for the country. State result after result was split almost evenly between a candidate who thinks we should ignore coronavirus and one who believes we need a national emergency declaration – and likewise on virtually any public issue involving governing, character or empathy.
The two candidates themselves could agree only on the idea that they each represented a polar opposite of the other. To the last moment of campaigning, Trump proved himself devoid of reality of public contagion, of the unequal effect of his economy, of global responsibilities of the need to fear The Other. To his last public uttering, Biden was insisting we needed to retrieve the nation’s soul from an idiotic clown.
No Lessons Learned
How is it possible for Americans to divide equally?
To underscore the obvious, the voting on Senate candidates split nearly evenly as well, giving neither party the kind of majority that can provide any sense of authority.
If this election was supposed to be a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency, even a huge turnout proved a fizzle. It was neither definitively positive or negative.
Two years of vituperation, $14 billion in campaign spending, and what do we have?
We’re headed for more of the same, regardless of who finally is sitting in the Oval Office.
Meanwhile, Trump remains president, of course.
I would like to think that this kind of night might provide a splash of water to a boorish, ego-centric president, to take account of a very divided nation, whether for two months or for four more years.
But instead, we can expect that he will continue to ignore the realities of coronavirus, to take punitive actions against individuals like Dr. Anthony Fauci whom he perceives as opposing him, and to create lots more executive actions to worsen immigration, health care, environment, income inequality and racism – all while the lame-duck Senate Republican majority shoves through more conservative federal judges with lifetime terms.
The open question is who or what will emerge as the big loser of the night. My first choice is the insistence on using flashing super-screens with red and blue that underscore that we care more about the horserace than considering the values to which we hope to aspire.
But the bigger loser for the night is trust in our democracy. This campaign has underscored our need to win at any cost, spawning lies, dark money, and a distinct refusal to separate partisan fiction from the realities of complicated problems.
We asked the American public to consider an accounting for the Trump years. The American voter gave it a good shot – and whiffed.