As I write on Friday evening (11/6) waiting for the media (other than AP) to call the election for Biden/Harris and for the official counts from all states to be certified, I want to share some thoughts on the almost completed election and on some possibilities for the coming year.
Despair Vs. Hope
Election night left me emotionally exhausted and the next day I found myself nearly paralyzed with inaction resulting from what I can only discern as grief. And this in the face of an emerging Biden victory, though at 4 AM on Wednesday that was still far from certain. Likely? Perhaps. Highly likely? It sure didn’t feel like it. It just felt too much like 2016 all over again. At that moment, an attempted judicial coup was just gearing up (and as of now, has not gotten out of first gear). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already suggested (anticipating a Biden win) that he would likely obstruct all of Biden’s efforts to govern, even going so far as to deny Biden his cabinet appointments if he attempted to nominate any “liberals”. McConnell effectively announced his intent to be the shadow President, and we’ve already seen how this works in states like Wisconsin where the Republican supermajority stripped newly elected governor Tony Evers of many of his powers, blocked all legislation proposed by Democrats, and used a conservative state Supreme Court to overturn the Governor’s executive orders. It was all too easy to imagine a Biden presidency completely fettered by a combination of the Conservative Majority Supreme Court and GOP dominated Senate. But I think what I found most dispiriting and so much harder to deal with is the fact that nearly half of our fellow citizens chose a fulminating, willfully ignorant, polarizing, authoritarian, lying racist who is actively looting the country while doing his best to fan the flames of a surging pandemic over a genial candidate offering to try to bring us all together. Folks were given a choice between hate and girevance and trying to find some common ground, and nearly half came out firmly on the side of hate and grievance. The morning after the election Mother Jones editor David Corn, asked, what if half the country doesn’t want to be brought together? What if they prefer war with the other half?
Corn pointed out that there are no quick and easy solutions to the bitter polarization that Trump has promoted/exploited and made a central element of his presidency. I, like many in the progressive commentariat, had anticipated that this election would not just bring a blue wave (that didn’t happen) but a repudiation of Trump. But Trump actually garnered more support than he did in 2016 (when many folks were not aware of what they were getting). And I wondered, how can I help promote a just future for my kids and grandkids in a nation that is so hateful and where a large minority rejects the legitimacy of the majority?
But by the next day, thinking about the organizing the produced the emerging Biden win, the lens through which I saw the election changed and my spirits rose as I began to imagine the possibilities that lie ahead.
About The Election
- The election WAS in fact a repudiation of Trump. It looks like Biden will win the popular vote by over 7 million votes – a record , and he will win by a record margin as well.
- Nail biting on election night is a function of the way votes are counted. The drama (and the anxiety it produced) were unnecessary. Same day votes (which generally favored Trump) were counted first in many jurisdictions and then early votes (which generally favored Biden). This was exacerbated by recently enacted GOP laws requiring that mail in votes be counted last. In states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden was always ahead. It just wasn’t apparent because his votes were counted last.
- Whether we like Joe Biden as a candidate or not – his winning (which is not yet official) was essential to the survival of the country and is something to celebrate. I don’t believe we could survive another four years of Trump, and while he had no formal policy platform for a second term, he spoke frequently of his desire to prosecute and imprison his enemies and to shut down the media that he believed treated him unfairly. Oh, and Social Security and Medicare and public education- those were to get the axe in a second term. And democracy. Trump’s aspiration to be an autocrat was not hidden. He boasted of deserving a third and fourth term and of his desire to be succeeded by his son or daughter. If Trump had succeeded in getting a second term, 2020 might have been our last election. And the pandemic – it’s killing us. Trump has no intention of doing anything about that.
- Biden’s win didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of massive, aggressive organizing, especially within urban Black and Latinx communities. The states of Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, and Wisconsin were won largely by mobilizing voters of color in the cities of Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix, and Milwaukee . And that kind of organizing is the key to mobilizing the nation to build a real democracy. (more on this in future columns).
- The DEMS still have an outside chance of retaking the Senate,
which would enable Biden to enact a bold, expansive ,and progressive agenda that would rapidly repair a lot of the damage that Trump and the GOP enacted in four years and expand the practice of democracy. But to do this the DEMS would have to win both seats that are up for grabs in Georgia’s special Senate run off election on January 5.
- Imagine being the party that engaged in various forms of voter suppression for years–purging voter rolls, closing polling sites, restricting early voting, even sabotaging the US mail– but then still losing and having the nerve to complain that the *other* party somehow cheated.
- The anticipated coup seemed to me to be well planned but thus far has been lazily and sloppily implemented, much like most of what Trump has done. At this moment, it doesn’t look like it is going anywhere nor does it appear to have much support outside of Trump’s inner circle.
- Even if the DEMS don’t retake the Senate, there’s plenty that Biden can do to get some things done in the face of McConnell’s obstruction. I see all kinds of possibilities. More on that below.
The Current State of Affairs / The Damage We Need To Repair
Our country is broken and our efforts to repair and heal it are hindered by the massive damage that Trump has done to our social fabric and by the concurrent crises that he and his party have exacerbated. I could fill a series of columns with the depravities of the Trump administration. Here’s a small sample.
- The United States has the worst pandemic response (or lack of response) in the world. The mismanagement of the pandemic has led to over 241,000 American deaths, most of which were preventable. We are approaching 10 million COVID-19 cases in the US and are adding over 100,000 new cases each day. We have set single day national records for new cases for the last three days. And we still have no national pandemic response policy.
- The Supreme Court will hold a hearing on November 10 in which they are expected to declare The Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) unconstitutional which would immediately strip 20 million Americans of their health insurance during a pandemic.
- The conservative justices on the court, now a 6-3 majority, have indicated their preference for repealing or reducing rights that Americans have enjoyed for a generation or more including voting rights, reproductive freedom rights, equal marriage and other LGBTQ rights and labor rights. Our national history has been one of expanding rather than revoking rights. We are about to enter a new era.
- With the nation literally burning, Trump has abandoned or reversed most policy designed to address the climate crisis and has in effect declared war on the environmental movement.
- Children continue to be imprisoned in concentration camps on the southern border and many have been separated – effectively permanently – from their parents.
- US immigration has performed involuntary sterilizations on detained immigrant women, a crime against humanity,
- Across the country, the police continue to execute with impunity people of color, mostly black men.
- The White Supremacist Republican Party and its current administration has fostered bold impunity among an array of racists, fascists, and Nazis, empowering them, often with the support of the police, to engage openly in violence and intimidation against communities of color and non-Christians.
- We have a racist president encouraging his rabid followers to engage in violence against his enemies while demanding that his opponents be imprisoned.
- The nation’s unemployment rate is nearly 8%. Over 12.5 million people are jobless. We are just beginning a national eviction tidal wave..
So, with Trump’s apparently impending defeat (the AP called the election for Biden at 10 AM today (11/6) but all the other networks and major papers have been reluctant to do so) we may have stopped the bleeding. Now it’s time to begin the project of repairing our very broken country.
A Short Agenda for Creating An American Democracy
I will take up the state of American democracy in a future column. Here’s some ways we can build a more democratic society right now.
- Abolish the electoral college – an artifact of the framers’ desire to protect the power of slave holding states (see e.g. here for an extended discussion) and a check on the judgement of the common people whom the framers did not trust, and one of the truly anti-democratic features of American democracy. Note that in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections Democrats have won the popular vote, but have only won the presidency in 3 of those. There is already a state by state initiative under way to accomplish this abolition. Fifteen states have joined a compact to give all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. When states totalling 270 electoral votes (the number needed to attain the presidency) join the compact, the electoral college will effectively be replaced by the popular vote.
- Un-gerrymander the States – Gerrymandering is a process by which legislatures manipulate the boundaries of legislative districts to favor one political party. Right now, there are many legislative districts that are gerrymandered in such a way as to make it impossible to have a contested election. In heavily gerrymandered states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Republicans win in the neighborhood of 40% of votes cast but are awarded over 60% of the seats in the legislature. Next year is a redistricting year, and the GOP, which has added to its majority control of state legislatures is likely to further exacerbate the gerrymandering of districts. But gerrymandering smothers democracy. We’ll need to find a solution to end it.
- DC Statehood (and maybe Puerto Rico if its residents so desire). No taxation without representation. Statehood for DC which has a larger population than Wyoming or Vermont, would provide 700,000 Americans with representation in national government and a say in choosing our leaders. This can only happen when the DEM’s hold both the House and the Senate – maybe not during Biden’s presidency but if the opportunity arises it needs to be seized.
- End Voter Suppression. Voter suppression is so deeply embedded in our electoral process that it is now accepted as business as usual. There is no telling how many millions of votes were disqualified in the last election but it likely numbers in the millions. The plague of voter suppression includes voter intimidation, aggressive purging of voter roles, aggressive disqualification of mail and absentee ballots, long voting lines (10-12 hours in some black districts in the last election), widespread disinformation campaigns (including, in Tuesday’s election where extensive robocalls to Michigan voters told them that, because of COVID, it was not safe to come to the polls) and the use of hackable and un-auditable electronic voting machines. Here’s one new twist of the expanding array of tools used by the GOP to suppress the vote. In the recent election. Postmaster Louis DeJoy’s orders to slow the delivery of mail leading up to the election resulted in between 150,000 and 300,000 ballots not being delivered in time to be counted. Authorities in South Florida estimate that 27% of the South Florida mail-in vote never reached the clerks. This can be remedied with a voting rights law. After the Supreme Court invalidated sections of the voting rights act, The House wrote a new one but it has been sitting in the Senate for almost a year without action.
- Kill Fox News. Honestly, I have no idea how to do this but after a month of text canvassing in Wisconsin for Biden (through the Working Families Party) and engaging with plenty of MAGA folks, I was struck by the way folks whose only engagement with the wider world is through Fox News, inhabit a bizarre alternative reality and that reality is decidedly racist and anti-democratic. Fox is a major distributor of toxic disinformation and stands as a major obstacle to national healing.
The Realm of Possibility
So, Trump has left us with a pretty bleak landscape and there’s no telling how much more damage he’ll inflict in the 74 days he will continue to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And how are we to rebuild the country with Mitch McConnell pledging to obstruct any efforts to do so? We of course can organize to create the same kinds of popular movements that produced gains in civil rights throughout our history, building on the momentum from this historic election.
And there are many things that Biden can do on day one that do not require the Senate’s blessing. It’s become the focus of my daily conversations with my kids–what can/should Biden do that McConnell can’t touch. We have come up with dozens of ideas. Here are my current 10 favorites.
1. Hire Fauci (apparently soon to be fired by Trump) and indeed lots of competent, good, and smart people.
2 Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord
3. Rejoin the World Health Organization
4. Fire Scott Atlas, and restore Obama’s pandemic playbook
5. Restore independent Inspector Generals as a first step in restoring government accountability
6. Close the concentration camps on the border
7. Reunite separated children with their parents
8. Establish a commission to investigate the criminality of the Trump Administration
9. Direct the Justice Department to crack down on white supremacist terror cells and white supremacist terrorist infiltration of police departments.
10. Trump issued 194 executive orders during his time in office. No doubt there will be many more during his final days. Trust me, they all need to be repealed and this is something that Biden can accomplish rather rapidly with a bit of paperwork.
I’m betting that many of you out there have better suggestions. So please share them. Or, share your ideas about democracy, possibility and America’s future. Let’s start those conversations that will inform and motivate our necessary actions.