November 9, 2020
Some commentators are opining that, in retrospect, Biden was the only candidate who could have beaten Trump. Biden outpaced most other Democrats on the ballot, the presidential outcome was fairly close, and it wasn’t issues or policies that shaped it. Not even the covid catastrophe seems to have moved many votes, except insofar as it reflected the more elemental factors, a hunger for a return to decency and an end to chaos — central to Biden’s appeal. That’s why I’d supported him from the start, as the right candidate. A perfect joining of a man and a moment. Seems so clear now.
Many too have discussed how Trump sabotaged himself. But of course he’s never really had a clue about anything. Always acting on his gut — a gut unencumbered by any knowledge of reality. Pundits noted that his attempted character assassination of Biden never gained traction (outside his cult). I was chortling: Hey, you’re Donald Trump running against Joe Biden — and you want to make character the issue??
It’s remarkable how all the skepticism toward Biden, all the mocking and belittling, all the posited lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy, seems to have melted away, like snows in Spring. My November 4 blog post (the outcome already clear to me) ended by saying there should be dancing in the streets. I meant it figuratively. I was thrilled to see it happening literally, all across the country, Saturday afternoon. Already it felt like a new and different America.
Yet in many ways this election shows America the same as in the recent past — only more so. Remember when a Reagan could carry 49 states? That was a different America. You may dispute the judgment on Reagan, but at least that was a country that could come together in collective objective judgment, overcoming partisan biases. I needn’t reprise why such a judgment in 2020 ought to have been far more ineluctable than in 1984. Yet now objectivity and judgment are out the window, partisan tribalism trumping everything. Party is personal identity. At least for an awful lot of people — mainly, frankly, Republicans.
America thusly becoming two different and separate countries is exemplified by this startling fact: in a majority of counties Democrats won in 2016, their margin rose in 2020 — and in a majority of counties Republicans won in 2016, their margin rose in 2020.
Some of us foresaw demographics inexorably eroding Republican strength over time. This election belies that theory. The reality is more complicated; people don’t conform to stereotypes. Close partisan division may be entrenched for a long time.
Despite the mentioned obvious reasons for Biden’s victory, it was a case of nudging the needle just enough. Just as Trump did in 2016. A nation lurching from one governance extreme to another every four years, based on a mere handful of votes in a handful of states, seems crazy. Well, that’s the land we live in. And the close partisan division makes for much governmental paralysis no matter which side is temporarily on top.
Yet elections do matter. The last four years proved that. And had Trump won this time, it would now be a really different country, having crossed a Rubicon in an arguably irreversible direction. As an optimist, I truly feel my country has been saved. For now, at least.