The Sound of a Landslide Not Happening
This election should have been a landslide. Faced with a choice between a decent, if uninspiring, former Vice President with a long and solid track record of competent governance, and literally the worst president since the Civil War era — a president under whom the economy cratered, corruption reigned, human rights were stripped and mocked, social inequality reached new heights and a pandemic was allowed to blaze unchecked, killing a quarter of a million American souls — the decent man should have walked away from this election with 400 electoral votes at least.
America should have forcefully repudiated Donald Trump; this wannabe despot, this childish authoritarian who fawned over dictators, this incipient fascist whose first impulse towards American Nazis was to collect them into his embrace, and could only querulously condemn them under duress. This liar, this racist, this cheat, this sociopathic bundle of insecurities and anhedonia, this sad example of a human for whom the White House was merely an ATM with an oval office, this pathetic creature for whom everything was about who would flatter him and who he could punish, this impeached debauch, this bad man, should have been shown the door on the end of a broom.
Instead, Donald Trump received (at the time this was written) seventy million, four hundred thousand votes — 47.7% of the total vote. Four years of being worst president in modern history gained him seven million, four hundred thousand more votes than he received in 2016, and nearly two percentage points more of the total voting electorate. Seventy million, four hundred thousand American voters lived through four years of corruption and incompetence and eroding social norms and decided they wanted another four years of that. They saw a president be a bully and a bigot and a thug, and voted to give the bully four more years. They saw four years of a man siding with fascists, and then sided with him.
And let’s be blunt: “They” here are mostly white people. The exit polling, while not perfect, makes this clear. White men, white women, white people without college degrees, white people who make over $100,000 a year, evangelical white people — the majority of them who voted gave Donald Trump their vote last Tuesday. They did it again, please note; these same people gave him their vote in 2016, in nearly the same percentages. And while of course hashtag Not All White People — I mean, I didn’t vote for him — at the end of the day, according to those exit polls, 57% of white voters in America decided this awful man, with his lies and his hate and his corruption, was who they wanted, and who their country deserved to have. Again.
There is no excuse for it. I’m not going to be the white man who sanctimoniously tries to apologize to the rest of the United States population for the fact that the majority of white voters, when given a choice, will vote for an ethnically “pure” pseudo-Christian police state with an angry tinpot dictator at the tippy-top. Twice. It’s not my place to do that, not least of all because I’m well aware of how much I benefit, unwillingly or otherwise, from their tendencies. But at the very least I can acknowledge that even someone like me can see there is something wrong with whiteness in America: Something pathological, something hateful, something inexpressibly awful about it. This election was a literal no-brainer, possibly the easiest moral litmus test any presidential election has offered in the more than 220 years of presidential elections in the United States, and 57% of white voters just failed it, a non-trivial number of them flying vast “Trump” flags from their pickups as they did so.
Yes, I know. Folks who are not white (and a lot of them who are, but also happen to be LGBTQ+ or disabled or non-Christian) are rolling their eyes at me and saying “welcome to the party, pal.” I’m not under the illusion that I am telling anyone who has lived under whiteness all this time anything new about it. But let me re-emphasize here that this election was an easy test for white folks, likely the easiest of all possible tests. I mean, Jesus, the Democrats ran with Biden, the whitest of all possible white candidates this year, just to make it easy for other white people who don’t want to acknowledge their ingrained racism to do the morally and ethically correct thing! And still: 57% of white voters voted for Trump. 70.4 million voters, of which white people comprised the great majority. He gained votes and percentages after the four worst years any president has had since Hoover at least.
What I came away from the 2020 election knowing was that when given a choice between the worst president in living memory, who would happily dismantle the country and all its institutions if he could suck a nickel out of it — because he did just that for four straight years — and not that, white voters in their majority chose the worst. White voters will not defend the United States against its worst impulses. White voters will not save the United States from itself or anyone else. They’ll let it burn, to “own the libs,” but in reality because they’d rather be on the top of a pile of ashes than just another part of anything else, with people who they don’t see as being like them.
Which, well. Is disappointing.
Trump won seventy million, four hundred thousand votes. Joe Biden, thankfully, won seventy-four million and won a bare majority (50.5%) of the available voting populace, and the majority of the electoral college. White people did vote for Biden, of course; 42% of those who voted. But others voted for him more, in percentages if not raw numbers. Biden won because of black women and black men, because of Hispanics and Latinos, because of Asian Americans, Native Americans and others, all of whom came out to vote for Biden in much larger percentages than white people.They voted despite racist state and federal policies and ploys established to make it more difficult to vote — for fuck’s sake, the Trump administration started dismantling the postal service to keep early Democratic (read: minority) votes from arriving on time, and Republicans from Texas to Ohio made it more difficult to vote early in person. They voted as if their lives depended on it, because they did.
So did the life of our nation, at least as we understand it today. We don’t have to wait for history to say it, we can say it now: it was black women voters and black men voters who pulled the United States back from the brink. It was Latino and Hispanic voters. It was Asian American and Native American voters. It wasn’t just them — LGBTQ+ voters and new voters (many of whom overlap those aforementioned categories) broke toward Biden as well. They held better faith in the United States than white voters did. In his victory speech, Biden wisely acknowledged that his voters came from all quarters and pledged to make his administration look like the nation that had voted for him.
He had better keep that promise. It’s not enough to thank those who saved us — all of us, even the ones who voted for the wannabe dictator — from four more years of moral and institutional decay. Give them the levers of power that they should have access to already. Let them make this country better and more fair for everyone. We know what the alternative is. We’ve just had four years of it.
And if you think we can’t go back to it, remember: Trump got 7.4 million more votes and almost two percentage points more of the voting population after four years of being the worst president in living memory. Those voters aren’t going away, and not all of them will be peeled away from voting for the worst possible option, so long as it is white, before they shuffle off this mortal coil. 2024 is coming (and 2022 mid-terms before then). We’ll be fighting white supremacy for a long time, folks. At the very least, I can’t pretend to be surprised about it any more.
(Update: a piece with more general thoughts on the 2020 election is now up.)