Though the results are not yet final, it appears that Donald Trump will be defeated. Assuming this outcome holds, it is undeniably good news. Even amid all the bad news — and there is a lot of it — we should all take some time to feel genuine gratitude. Even the most hardened cynic should be able to experience at least some twinge of relief that he will probably be gone.
That said, even the most loyal MSNBC-watching liberal should probably understand that because of the down-ballot results, this election is only guaranteed to give us one very important thing. But everything else will have to be fought for — and almost certainly, a lot of people will continue to suffer and perish.
During this pandemic, we are not guaranteed to get much more relief. Joe Biden has recently changed his tune about deficit spending under pressure from progressives. But he has also spent decades touting himself as the guy who wants to work with Republican lawmakers to cut Social Security in the name of debt reduction.
During this health care cataclysm, we are not guaranteed to get anything at all. Biden campaigned against Medicare for All and has lately touted a much more limited version of even a modest public health insurance option, which will face tough odds in a Senate whose majority party is run by Mitch McConnell and in a Congress that is partly owned by insurance companies.
During this climate emergency, we are not guaranteed to get the sweeping energy and environmental policy changes that scientists tell us are necessary to protect the ecosystem that sustains human life. Biden must be pressured to use executive authority, as congressional Republicans continue to prioritize the profits of their fossil fuel donors over their own constituents whose communities are being incinerated.
During this cataclysm of misinformation, we are not guaranteed to see major changes from a corporate- and billionaire-owned media that has consistently ignored working people, touted oligarchy, and funneled cash into vapid horse race punditry while starving journalism of resources. We will only change the information ecosystem through the slow and difficult work of building and supporting new forms of grassroots-funded media and by breaking up the tech monopolies.
During this crisis of confidence in government and our political system, we are not guaranteed to see systemic changes in the political leadership that delivered us to this moment of peril. Yes, Trump will be gone, but unless there are loud demands made — and unless presidential power is actually used — the ethos of “nothing will fundamentally change” will likely become a governing strategy. Without pressure for real change, that strategy would be implemented by the same congressional leaders and political operatives who will inevitably be reinstalled into positions of authority — even after they and their ideology created the conditions for Trump in the first place.
A Respite From the Toxic Slime
The only thing Trump’s defeat guarantees is a respite from the presidency being used to incite, enflame, and psychologically destabilize us on a daily basis — and, as I’ve written before, that is no small thing.
While some Republicans will try to save face and pretend Trump’s agenda is some anomaly, that’s false — on policy, Trump has merely championed a brazen version of his party’s long-standing agenda. But Trump is an anomaly in how he has used the bully pulpit to try to sow anxiety, fear, and hate on a daily basis.
Sure, lots of other presidents have been horrible, but no president has used the White House megaphone in the way he has — and the damage that another term of that would have done is terrifying to even think about. Four years of his demagoguery has already coarsened our culture and empowered the darkest forces of fasicsm, greed, and white supremacy — four more years would have irreparably changed the nation’s psyche.
Biden will not use the presidency in that way. He may promote corporate Democrat talking points. He may give in to Mitch McConnell and his donors and stock his administration with Republicans and Wall Street cronies. And he may continue telling billionaires that he will protect their interests — and if everyone goes back to brunch and he is not pressured, he may not deliver many decent policies.
But one thing is all but guaranteed: he will not use the bully pulpit as a weapon of nihilistic incitement — and that at least is a good thing, and a very significant change from Trump.
Is This Weimar America? or Something Better?
Of course, a lot of folks are still understandably angry that the Democratic Party took a rare moment of transformational possibility — an FDR-style opportunity in the face of one of the most winnable presidential races in recent memory — and used that moment to nominate an incrementalist who responded to a national emergency by literally promising his donors that nothing would fundamentally change.
We may look back on that particular nominating decision as one of the most epic and tragic missed opportunities of the last century — especially because Biden did not really earn his election victory. His retrograde record was wildly out of step with the times, and he won the Democratic primary because almost every past vice president has won their party’s nomination.
But COVID-19, an economic crisis, and tireless grassroots organizing by heroic progressive activists and groups ended up narrowly defeating his opponent. It never should have been that close, and Biden did the bare minimum without actually shitting the bed.
The fact that it was even a narrow race — and the fact that Trump appeared to have increased his support among Latinos in some places — is a disturbing sign for the future, particularly with Democratic leaders already doubling down on the “nothing would fundamentally change” message, even after the party’s disappointing down-ballot losses.
Then again, we don’t know where we are in our historical story. A Biden presidency may well be the final Weimar America period — the last interregnum of artificial calm, stasis and establishment let-them-eat-cake-ism before everything collapses into mayhem at the hands of a much smarter, shrewder and even-more-reckless version of Trump.
However, one thing we’ve learned in the last few years is that things are unpredictable and can change quickly — and that means they could change for the better, if we’re willing to put in the work.
The crushing reality of life in this oligarchy seems to be changing minds a lot faster than politicians might let on. The fake, manufactured, self-serving “center” of the Beltway discourse may have held for now — and may be lifting the spirits of Wall Street moguls — but usually reality wins out at the end of the day.
The big question is whether we can still muster the will to reduce the amount of pain, suffering, and death between now and then.