What a week. I went to bed (very) late Tuesday night feeling disconsolate, woke a couple times to take a peek at my phone, put my head back under the pillow wondering whether it was possible to keep it squeezed hard enough to succeed in self-suffocation, awoke just a bit later having not tried to find out, then felt even bluer in cranking up my laptop and observing the yawning vote gaps separating frontrunning Donald Trump from Joe Biden in key battleground states, including my own here in North Carolina.
“Is this really happening?” I asked myself and the fates themselves. “Could it be?”
Already, my mind was projecting darkly ahead, wondering how the country would survive four more years of this horror show, and what I would do with the despair already wrapping itself around my insides, like a snake set to slowly squeeze the life out of me.
“Big hill to climb for Biden. Possible he’ll eke it out but I wouldn’t bet money on it.”
I texted that to my daughter in California at 8:56 a.m. EST Wednesday morning. (She works the graveyard shift, and had been up for hours.)
She advised me: “Don’t give up hope!”
Oh, the optimism of youth!!
But it seems to me that the whole issue of Trump critics not understanding his voters has always needed to be turned around and asked of them on one overarching issue that dwarfs all others: Doesn’t character matter?
By 9:22, however, I had noted fresh vote totals, computed electoral votes in the quartet of battleground states still at issue, and realized that if clear trends held in just two of the four, Joe Biden would be sworn in as president of the United States come January.
“Say what?” I asked myself, checking and rechecking my figures before madly texting them to my daughter and some friends I figured could use the bucking up.
Although I would normally regard “cautious elation” as a self-canceling phrase, I will submit that as an accurate depiction of what I was feeling by then.
I also noticed the caution receding in small increments hour by hour over the subsequent days, even as the condition known as “2016 PTSD” served as a brake on a complete surrender to euphoria.
Until yesterday morning at 11:34 a.m. EST, that is—when CNN called Pennsylvania and the presidency for Biden and we popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate what felt more like absolution for the very soul of America than it did an election result.
And just underneath the elation—a sense of exhaustion. A desire to have this man and all he represents out of the office he has soiled so wantonly, at such cost to Americans’ relationships with each other and with the larger world.
Also out of my life, out of my head and the heads of nearly 75 million of my fellow voters who turned out in record numbers after having watched in alarm and dismay as he and his minions had spent the past four years setting fire to every democratic institution, protocol, and code of decency that our country has so laboriously constructed through the turmoil of our founding and the drastic challenges it has faced and overcome since.
It’s a long list of assaults, led by his sustained efforts to destroy every person and institution who would not be bent to his will and pledge him their undying loyalty.
That has always been the litmus test for all those come into his orbit, be they directly subordinate cabinet members and staffers, civil servants, or the Republican legislators whom he tried and mostly succeeded in making subordinate to him rather than another independent branch of government.
In his dreams of being all-powerful, he thought such blind loyalty should also include the judiciary branch, whom he continues to hope will find merit in his baseless, legally meaningless pursuit of redress for the plain fact of losing a democratic election. No doubt he will consider all of them backstabbers once they refuse to do his bidding, just as he has every semi-independent voice over the past four years who saw fit to take seriously their oaths to uphold the Constitution rather than the craven desires of a would-be king.
In his dark and quarrelsome mind, always, in every case, his failures are due either to a would-be ally betraying him, or enemies cheating him out of what is rightfully his.
So: the persistent and troubling question now echoing around the world: How is it possible, after all we have observed about this man’s character and the obvious destruction he has levied upon the well-being of our country, that upwards of 70 million American voters wanted four more years of not only the same, but even the worse that would have been sure to come?
Liberals, moderates and even many disaffected Republicans have spent the past four years hearing they needed to work harder to understand the cries of Trump voters, how the system had not worked for so many of them, how they felt the country’s problems could only be tackled by a wholesale upending of our calcified power structure.
Fair enough. Systemic ills abound in every country, made up of imperfect human beings as they are, and democracies are hardly immune. Clearly, we have work to do, and it will be ever thus.
But it seems to me that the whole issue of Trump critics not understanding his voters has always needed to be turned around and asked of them on one overarching issue that dwarfs all others:
Doesn’t character matter?
Doesn’t honesty matter?
Don’t trust and kindness and humility and compassion matter?
How can you overlook or try to make inconsequential the obvious lack of all those basic character traits in a man entrusted with the welfare of our nation?
Shouldn’t a president be, before and above everything else, as a minimum, baseline requirement, a decent human being?
The fact that Donald Trump is not, and never has been, a decent human being, and that 70 million voters refused to see that all too transparent fact, or did not regard it as a problem, or laughed it off as a mere quirk, or, in the case of a not inconsequential number of them, identified with that indecency and used it to amplify their own, is the great unresolved issue of the 2020 campaign, it seems to me.
And I still do not understand, and likely never will, how it is possible that many decent, loving people I know are among those 70 million.
Perhaps it will remain an enduring mystery even to themselves.
What I do know today is that an even greater number of Americans (74 million and counting) have now called a halt to the dispiriting spectacle of the Donald Trump presidency, and have made an emphatic statement that character does matter, honesty does matter, that we desperately want and need our leader to be a person of basic integrity.
A person, in other words, like Joe Biden.
All manner of policy differences can commence to be hashed out from there, often, as befits a democracy, in highly contentious terms.
But without a baseline level of character and decency, honesty and civility and trust, we can’t even begin to discuss them—and they won’t make any difference anyway. You can’t wring decent output out of indecent, corrupt input.
Meanwhile, I already feel less exhausted and more elated, albeit more quietly, today than I did yesterday.
That’s a most welcome start for me on the next four years.
Speaking of decent human beings…
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Bob and I have discussed this concept over and over. I suspect that I can find acceptance of the unacceptable more easily due to the fact that I have been a square peg progressive in a mass of circular conservatives most of my life. I have evolved from innocent oblivion as a child, to questioninig without comment as a teenager to finding unease in the skin of decades of my adult life, slowly emerging more and more as a misfit, even holding myself as superior to them.
Then I moved to California, secure in the notion that I would find “my people”. Surprisingly, I suffered a good deal of predudice for the simple noise my Southern accent made in California academic circles, judgements immediately made. Of course that changed as people got to know me. Nevertheless, I find knee jerk judgement hard to swallow. I, like you, have Trump supporters in my own family. At one point, in the midst of an argument that was going nowhere with a family member, I decided that it was best to step back rather than lose that relationship. We still disagree as heartily as before, and I am not sure I could bridge that gap with conversation, but at least we have agreed to go to neutral corners in favor of a relationship.
At this point, I think that a societal version of agreeing to disagree might be the only way out of this, and as at least some conservatives will see, the country will not fall to ruin as the conspiracy theorists opine. There are the hard core rightwingers, who will never find compromise an option, just as there are those on the far left, who have the “my way highway” mentality. I just hope that the rest of us can find our way out of this dark time in our democracy and usher in a new age of acceptance and inclusion for all in this country, at the very least.
Thanks much for this, Claire. Like you, I’ve pretty much dropped any effort to convince my beloved rellies and friends who, to my way of thinking, don’t see the forest of Trump’s corruption and indecency for whatever trees they are beholding that compel their votes for him. In the end, love should win over what both sides consider the other’s delusions, yes?
And about your Southern accent inviting scorn: I had more than a few people in California, most of whom I hasten to add didn’t know me very well, arch an eyebrow and ask in one form or other, “North Carolina? Why????,” when I let them know I was moving here last year. The implication clearly being that since NC voted for Trump in 2016 and is in the South, it is obviously a land of Bull Connors and confederate flags. Would I even be safe here among them?
Amazing, how clearly irrational and uninformed even otherwise “liberal” (or so they see themselves) people can be!
California misses you Andy but No. Carolina is the better for it. It will be above my pay grade, but our sociologists need to give us some insights on why the lock step following to Trump. Maybe decency is taken for granted. Let’s find a new middle ground.
That’s the question of the age, Norette, to be sure. Was reading yesterday about his campaign appearance in Michigan last month, where he launched into a speech with claims about how many auto plants he had brought to the state, which hadn’t had a new plant in 40 years. (“”We’re building all these plants. You had the best year last year you ever had.”) Reality: there have been no new plants built since he took office, and the last one was 14 rather than 40 years ago. And employment in the industry actually went down by 2,400 since his election, even before the coronavirus took out another 16,000 this year. The crowd’s response? “We love you!” He spoke for 90 minutes. Classic demagogue, leadership via personality cult, one thing I have to admit he is really, really good at.
Hey, I totally identify with this. I too feel exhausted, probably by the tension of the past four years, the horrible sense of dread about the other result. Glad we made it, but like any bad relationship that ends, America has a lot of healing to achieve if we are to become better for it.
Yes, it will not be an easy slog, Geoff! Especially if Mitch McConnell manages to hold onto his leadership position. But I don’t think Biden is under any illusions, and just the change in tone, with more than half the country not waking up every day covering our eyes and ears for fear of the latest Trumpian atrocity, will make for a sizable improvement in our mental state!
I grew up in a progressive-Democratic Party-Unitarian family whose parents worked diligently to support causes from women’s rights to racial equality. They supported Adlai Stevenson over Ike. My great-aunts were suffragettes. Moreover, I can’t think of a single family member (children, brothers, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews) who voted for Trump. All of us popped the champagne after the networks announced Biden as the winner. But, for persons like Claire, who must tiptoe around this division with family and life-long friends, I have the utmost respect; it’s a struggle that demands strength, patience and enduring love. They’re a microcosm of the conflict within America today. The fact Claire is my wife has nothing to do with my appreciation of her resolve to deal with this issue in a thoughtful and loving manner. It can’t be understated.
Yes, it’s certainly a different circumstance when deep political divisions run through family and friends rather than strangers whom one can relegate to living in some alternate reality or on another planet. That said, although I sometimes heatedly disagreed in the past going back even to my parents long ago with Nixon and Reagan, right up through the Bush administration with various other relatives, it never seemed all that serious or threatening until Trump. That’s because Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama were all normal human beings with normal flaws and deep reservoirs of civility and decency. Trump lacks all those qualities, and his attack on democratic institutions, on expertise, competence and civil discourse represented an existential threat that had the entire nation in an uproar for four years running. And while it’s over for now, I don’t see the threat disappearing quite yet. A more coldly calculating, less narcissistic sociopath who listened to his advisers preaching restraint might well have cast the same spell in 2016 and won re-election now—and such a person may well appear yet again. Eternal vigilance is required!
Great piece, Drew! Yes I continue to be baffled by the Trump supporter — such obvious blind spots and denial about the utter lack of any decent content to his character. One of my very best friends is a Trump supporter and we decided the only way our friendship would continue and thrive would be for us just not to talk politics. I think that for many of us with loved ones in our lives who did vote for Trump, it’s a matter of simply agreeing to disagree and to continue to love them despite the puzzlement of how they could support someone like Trump.
I may be naive about this, Susan, just as I was about the appeal of Trump in 2016 (when I dismissed him out of hand as a cartoon character and charlatan; little did I know what a devastatingly effective demagogue he would turn out to be), but I do think the general climate of our politics will improve now that he’s out of office. For all the partisan divides swirling around Bush and Obama in recent years, Trump is a uniquely divisive figure, actively encouraging the rage and resentment, defiance and even violence that he does. We can only hope for some measure of restoration and respect for the civil debate, competence, expertise, and fact-based reality that are essential to a functioning society.
Thanks Drew – appreciate the comments of readers as well. I too think the heat will be turned down with Trump out of office as you note – he is uniquely divisive because he could care less about actual policy agendas etc – his clinical narcissism demanded a constant focus on “me”… I am optimistic we can get back to some level of normative political discourse where we have some basic agreement on the facts of an issue and can instead debate potential responses, possible solutions etc. Just imagine having department heads of key sectors of the government who are actually accomplished in that field!! It can only get better, especially if Georgia can find a way to elect 2 democratic senators on Jan 5!
Yep, fact-based consensus reality would be a noble undertaking for this country right about now, Kevin! Today, I’m not feeling as confident about that as I was in my response to Susan a couple days ago. Maybe it has to do with the dismaying lining up of Repubs behind Trump and his election fraud claims, lemming-like as can be. Oy vey…As you’ve mentioned before, social media and the tribalism it preys upon and reinforces is but one of many challenges we face in getting back to the “normative political discourse” (that phrase almost makes me weep!) we used to regard as a given. Here’s hoping!
Let’s be fair. Upholding to the US Constitution the Electoral College votes and declares the winner of an election in the USA, not the media. All those people dancing in the streets on Saturday must have slept through HS Govt class.
Nice try, Lisa, but it won’t wash. Can I assume then, that when the media declared Trump the winner on election night in 2016, your only reaction was to shrug your shoulders and implore everyone to wait for the electors to convene in December?
The media has been “declaring” the winner of presidential elections, most always on election night itself, since the advent of computers combined with modern polling and data analysis for the Eisenhower-Stevenson election in 1952. The only exception was 2000, when the Florida vote that the entire election turned on was too close to call and the recount there was finally halted by a highly controversial decision of the Supreme Court.
The situation is completely different now, with Biden’s lead substantial enough in multiple states that simple data crunching indicates he has won and it is time for Trump to graciously concede just as every other losing candidate has done, without fail, in the modern era. The only roadblock is Trump himself, and his baseless, evidence-free accusations of fraud, which is, unfortunately, totally in character for someone who has never admitted defeat or even one mistake in his entire life, always, ALWAYS blaming others for his failings and denying reality itself. Remember how the coronavirus was going to “disappear, like magic,” back in February? That was one of 37 other times he claimed the same thing—read the dismal record here: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/10/politics/covid-disappearing-trump-comment-tracker/
The problem is not our election system or the media—the problem is the character of this man, the president of the United States, who is causing severe damage to our democracy by claiming corruption in its very foundation of free and fair elections, where voters determine winners and losers, the media report on it, and we get on with the business of our country. Trump’s all too typical refusal ever to admit defeat again is, in this instance, not only a disgrace and embarrassment, but a grievous wound to our nation’s identity and values. It’s hard to believe that anyone is considering what he is doing now to be a good thing. Here’s a 3-minute sample on how it has always been otherwise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCcQXisY8Bc
News outlets report the numbers released by the counting polls, so you’re right: it’s not the media. Media report their projection when the difference in votes between the first and the second candidate is higher than any reasonable counting mistake at the polls. You not admitting a victory projection doesn’t mean that you want to wait for the Electoral Collage: it means you believe the counting wasn’t fair, and therefore this was a coup. If you try to say out loud the reasons that lead you to believe that, you would probably laugh at yourself. Try. Let’s be fair.
Great point, Francesco. Stating or reading anything out loud always reveals deeper layers—the absurd sounding even more absurd, the profound always gaining more breadth and depth. Trump’s case is essentially that the election was a fraud. How does he know? Because he lost, and he’s been warning about fraud for the past four years, just in case he did lose. All talk, not a stitch of evidence. Reminds me of the all-talk, “beautiful” health plan he never quite got around to unveiling, and the infrastructure bill that wasn’t, and all the auto factories he built in the midwest, even though he, um, didn’t…Say anything, do nothing but bluster, and still the people cheer…
You know what they say about “assuming” anything. :-) They are still counting votes, let’s let this all play out. We all want it to be a fair win with “legal” votes counted only.