Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Return of Hope Runs Into the Reality of Politics

Well, that was exciting. And in the end, most gratifying. Joe Biden will be the next president and Kamala Harris will be the first female vice president in the nation's history. The Democrats will hold the House of Representatives and have two chances to take nominal control of the Senate, if they can win both runoff elections in Georgia. Which all of a sudden seems eminently achievable. 

I know that many Democrats were surprised and rather annoyed that this was not a landslide election and that Republicans won back some House seats and held off Democratic challenges in the Senate. Most of all, they wonder why Biden didn't win with 58% of the popular vote, given how they feel about Donald Trump. The reason is that this country is divided by party, and that most Republicans voted...Republican, just as most Democrats voted for their party, and it was naive to think that 10 or 20% of Republican voters would vote Democratic when they had a president who gave them pretty much all they wanted in terms of ideology. The tweets? We ignore them. The outbursts and personal affronts? No politician is perfect. The Supreme Court? Ours. For years.

The truth is that Joe Biden won this election because enough voters, including a swath of Republicans, rejected Donald Trump. His tweets and speeches were just too vile. His grasp of basic facts was too loose. His undermining of basic and cherished American values and norms was too deep. His uncompromising ignorance on the issues was too great. His inability to make deals the result of his being politically inept. I understand that to a great number of Americans, these were actually his strengths, and they supported him because he promised to shake the system to its core so it finally served those who thought the country was becoming untethered from its rightful course.

Those people are in the minority, and have been since 2016, and you can't have a functioning democracy when a minority of voters determine who wins the highest office in the land. Further, Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections. And now the Supreme Court reflects that minority's view. It's no wonder that the country is angry. The will of the majority has been thwarted. Again; that's no way to run a democracy.

What really defeated Donald Trump, though, was Covid-19. Last January, I truly believed that Trump would be reelected because the economy was in great shape. People had jobs, the poverty rate was falling, and in a presidential election year, it is the economy that generally determines the fate of the incumbent. Then came February, and the beginning of the end. The president decided that he was going to fight the virus on his terms. Bad decision. 

Yes, Trump tried to seal the border, but he also tried to minimize the virus, and worse, tried to manage the number of reported cases so the numbers looked better than they were. He dismissed the science, sidelined the country's experts on infectious diseases, and promoted dubious, and deadly, remedies. 

And of course, there was the issue of masks. Right wing groups who believed their fundamental rights were being denied because governors and mayors wanted to keep people healthy and alive became prominent. Those who actually believed a real estate developer when he said they should go shopping and dining, as opposed to the scientists who said these were bad ideas, spread the disease. The vaccine he promised was never going to be ready on his political schedule. 

To be blunt; most things the president said about the virus and its effects were incorrect or untrue, and most everything the scientists said turned out, at some point in the argument, to be accurate. The more the virus spread, the more the president tried to ignore it. Then, he just ignored it. Now the virus breaks records day by day, and the winter hasn't even begun. Both Trump and Mike Pence said during the debates that the prediction was that if we did nothing, over 2 million people would die. We're on course for about 500,000. Does that make anyone feel good about the administration's response? So far, about 70 million people have said no.

For many Democrats and Independents, the virus was just one more excuse to vote against Donald Trump. He wallowed in conspiracy theories, didn't condemn right wing terrorists loudly enough, if at all, and made it clear from the beginning of his term that he was not going to make any effort to widen his appeal or attempt to govern for the good of all the people of this country. 

He had no health care plan, and his administration is arguing to end the protection for people who have preexisting medical conditions before the Supreme Court in a few weeks. He has eviscerated environmental laws in favor of placating the coal, oil, and gas industries that pollute and warm the planet. His administration's policy was to actually separate children from their parents at the southern border. He is using his Justice Department as a personal attorney service to investigate his enemies and those who have not been sufficiently supportive of his policies. He did nothing to address the deep seated racism woven into the fabric of American society. He tried, and was impeached for, leaning on the President of Ukraine to find dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

And in what I found to be one of the more confounding practices of the Trump Administration, he never really used his office to promote his policies by speaking to the American people. Yes, he tweeted, but there is nothing like the president speaking to the country through television. In many instances, Trump stepped on his own good news by constantly using social media to comment on events as they unfolded, rather than using the media to tell a coherent story and to promote legislation. I get that he wanted to be a disruptive president, but rather than constantly calling the media fake, he should have copied the Reagan and Clinton playbooks and used the media for his own ends and forced them to report on what he wanted. Too many stories per day just muddied the waters.

Now Joe Biden is asking the country to unite and put aside its vast differences, but that will be almost impossible in the short term and difficult in the long term. We are too divided. We sometimes believe in two wildly different realities. We rely on separate systems of fact. We blame the other side for being dangerous. Many Democrats hashtagged NotMyPresident onto their social media identities in 2017. The president is doing the same thing now by questioning the legitimacy of the election and of Joe Biden's presidency.

Trump's supporters love what he's done on immigration and taxes and the courts and political correctness and trade and foreign affairs. They are afraid of the disturbances and riots in the cities and are repelled by the ideas that were a major part of the far left wing of the Democratic party. I'm fairly sure an analysis of voting will show that many Republicans and Independents voted Biden for president, but voted Republican for Congress and state/local offices. This is not uncommon, and quite honestly, I understand this sentiment. Trump was too much, but giving free reign to the Democrats was beyond what many people wanted to happen. That's why there was no landslide.

The next few days and weeks will be rocky. Donald Trump cried fraud when he won in 2016, and he spent the majority of his campaign saying that the only way he could lose was because of voter fraud. Unfortunately, many people believed him. What did you think was going to happen when he's losing? He will eventually have to concede, but this is a man who believes firmly in his own propaganda. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that he goes away mad, but that he does go away.

The Republicans spent the past four years playing hardball politics. It's time for the Democrats to do the same for the next four. That means promoting their agenda and reminding people why they voted for Joe Biden. This will not be a progressive's dream, and many Democrats will be frustrated by the slow, perhaps glacial, pace of change. Joe Biden's election will slow the train, but it will not reverse it. It took the conservatives 40 years to get to this point. Democrats have to understand that this  election represents the beginning of the process.

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