I am immensely relieved that Trump is likely to leave the White House given how much damage he has already caused and how much more he could cause in the next four years. But I have to admit, with a heavy heart, that this wasn’t the blue wave election that I wanted or the nation needed.
It should not have been this close. Trump is on track to become the first president since World War II to see a net loss of jobs during his term. He has presided over the deaths of more than 232,000 Americans from covid-19 — a figure projected to reach nearly 400,000 by Feb. 1 — making this one of the worst mass-casualty events in U.S. history. He is only the third president to have been impeached for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.” He has spread lies and conspiracy theories at a record-breaking pace. He has flouted democratic norms and quite probably broken the law; indeed, by calling into question the legitimacy of the election he is continuing to undermine our democracy at this very moment. He will surely be rated by historians among the worst presidents in U.S. history — and quite possibly the absolute worst.
If there were any justice, Trump would have suffered the kind of historic repudiation inflicted on President Herbert Hoover, who in 1932 carried six states and got less than 40 percent of the vote. Or on Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972 or Walter Mondale in 1984. All of those candidates were vastly more competent and moral than Trump. Yet he did much better than they did. So far he has won more than 66.5 million votes, roughly 48 percent of the total, and, even if he ultimately loses, he will have come within a whisker of winning an electoral college majority.
That Trump did so well in the election after doing so badly as president is mind-boggling and disturbing. So too is the fact that Republicans seem to have paid little price for allowing him to ride roughshod over the Constitution, lock kids in cages and spread the poison of nativism and racism. Embattled Republican senators such as Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), John Cornyn (Tex.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) seem to have been rewarded rather than punished for their sickening sycophancy toward Trump. After having spent the past four years as Trump’s enforcer and enabler, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) will remain in office and probably remain majority leader, with the ability to frustrate any agenda that a President Biden would try to enact.
The conclusion is simple if disheartening: Demagoguery and dishonesty work. Trump ran what may be the sleaziest presidential campaign ever — denying the reality of covid-19 while spreading it with his rallies; lying about Biden’s agenda, acuity and ethics; spewing personal abuse and vitriol — and yet he produced a better result than most pollsters and pundits had expected. His dishonesty increased as the election drew near — yet just as in 2016, he won late-deciding voters.
Trump himself may lose, but Trumpism was hardly repudiated. The GOP did not suffer the kind of electoral destruction that would lead to soul-searching. It did well enough that the party will only be confirmed in its current embrace of populism, white nationalism and irrationalism. And the “Kung flu,” as Trump sometimes calls it, gives Republicans an alibi even for the president’s probable defeat: They will blame it all on China.
The election reveals that nearly half of the nation inhabits an alternative reality — built by Fox “News” and Facebook — where Trump is a successful president and Biden is a dangerous socialist. That does not augur well for our future, even if the likely defeat of Trump himself is an enormous achievement. I recently wrote: “We’re better than this. Aren’t we?” We may not be.