Editorial: Biden may win, but Trumpism reveals nation's ugly underbelly
We have to confess we desperately wanted to run the headline in today’s paper that proclaimed, in large type across the front page: “America to Trump: YOUR FIRED!” And we hoped to read versions of that theme in newspapers across the country. It didn’t happen. Not because Biden may not win, but because the repudiation of Trump was not that dramatic.
Rather it was close when it shouldn’t have been.
The election can be boiled down into a few words: Democrat Joe Biden will likely win the Electoral College vote and the popular vote, by the thinnest of margins, while Republicans upset Democratic hopes for a “blue wave” to maintain majority control of the U.S. Senate, pick up at least four seats in the U.S. House, and win majorities in important state house races that will determine congressional districts for the next decade.
What that says about America is mixed, but with some hard truths to witness. Here’s one less-than-optimistic take from Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman:
“What more could Trump have done to alienate voters? Was being the most corrupt president in American history not enough? Was being the most dishonest politician literally in the history of the world — and if you doubt, tell me who comes close — not enough?
“How about bungling a pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans and counting, and that threw tens of millions of Americans out of work and destroyed untold numbers of businesses — was that not enough?
“Was it not enough to be the most morally repugnant human being in American public life, a bigot and a misogynist and a xenophobe and a tax cheat and a petty, insecure narcissist? Was that not enough to lose an election by a wide margin?
“No, it was not…
“The overwhelming majority of Republicans — 93 percent, according to the data we have so far — decided that there could be no Republican so incompetent and corrupt and immoral that they would vote for a Democrat to replace him… It’s Trumpism that they love, a politics unconstrained not only by rules or laws, but by basic human civility.
“When Trump tosses around childish insults and acts as though any American who doesn’t support him is his enemy, they don’t say, ‘I don’t like that; it’s the other stuff I like.’ Trump’s vulgarity and hatefulness is exactly what they like. It’s a feature, not a bug. Seeing a political leader who enacts their darkest impulses on a daily basis thrills and intoxicates them… If you believed Biden when he so often responded to some new misdeed by pleading, ‘This is not who we are. We’re better than this,’ you were wrong. This is who we are. We are not better than this. And we won’t be for a long time to come, if ever.”
That sobering narrative is countered by the fact that Americans did go to the polls in record numbers to participate in our democracy — despite threats of violence, intimidation, and the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. Election Day went far smoother than was predicted, and while Americans expected Trump to declare an early victory and to allege election fraud, it’s just background noise to Trump’s endless diatribe of injustices. Most Americans expect all votes to be counted and the election to be determined by them — not trumped up legal proceedings with the hope of disenfranchising legally cast ballots.
That much of the American tradition is intact and supported by a majority in both parties.
But count Trump’s four-year term as a solid victory for Republicans. They twisted the system to get a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court and filled hundreds of lower court vacancies. They will likely maintain control of the Senate, preventing any move to rebalance the Supreme Court as well as prevent Biden from filling upcoming lower court vacancies. And they gave the wealthy huge tax cuts without turning many of their core voters, the poor and less educated, against them. Sen. Mitch McConnell will also revert to the game plan he used with President Obama to deny stimulus to help the economy (saying the deficit is now their primary concern), which will saddle a President Biden with dismal job growth as the nation heads into another death spiral with COVID-19. There’s little doubt that is what McConnell foresaw when he refused to grant another round of pandemic relief this summer and fall ahead of the election. Deliberately hurting Americans and blaming Democrats has been his game plan for the past 12 years — and he has done it with great success.
That more of the same is on the nation’s horizon is dispiriting, but Americans can’t overcome such cynicism without recognizing it for the blatant power game it has become for the GOP — and learning how to counter it more forthrightly.
If Biden wins the presidency, he and his team must reframe many of their arguments away from the themes of compassion and altruism to the more hard-nosed benefits their policies bring to businesses and voters. They need to outline a stronger law-and-order agenda (not by cracking down on offenders, as much as providing greater community safety); they need to talk about the green economy in terms of job growth (as they have been doing) and, perhaps, even help (gasp) oil and gas companies make that transition; they need to show why a stronger United Nations makes for a stronger America, and why tax increases on the wealthy create a healthier and stronger middle class and a stronger bottom line for all. It’s less about doing the “right thing” and more about passing policies because they make us all stronger.
If Trump was good at one thing, it was portraying strength and greatness, even though his actions made America much weaker and poorer. If they’re smart, Democrats will learn from that, using savvy policies to make it real.