Late Saturday morning and they had just called it. I was sitting here writing with the TV muted and my back to the windows when I started hearing some yelling on the street. I didn’t know what it was, then looked up at the television and saw the news.
Outside, fist pumping and cheers, people dancing, car and truck horns honking, whistles whistled, pots and pans banged on just as we did every night for so many weeks in the spring and summer for our essential workers. At the outdoor restaurant across the street there was a standing ovation.
Hours later here in Trump’s hometown and I was still hearing the shouts. A guy rode by on his bike, yelling through a bullhorn, “Lock him up!” I didn’t expect this kind of emotional outburst but that’s what happened— because it was never only about the Democrat in deep blue New York City beating the Republican. It was and is about pushing back against a mean, incompetent would-be dictator and the far too many who remain devoted to his treacherous chicanery. It’s because four years of his unique depths of corruption and lies, crass opportunism and thuggery, cynicism and heartlessness will soon be at end.
I was in Lafayette Square across from the White House on the night Richard Nixon announced his resignation. This was better.
(Although I have to admit, the juxtaposition of crowds cheering there Saturday against images from June when a law enforcement riot cleared the park so Trump could get his creepy Bible pic was especially satisfying.)
So here we are. Free of him soon but still at risk. In many ways, we’re as divided as we were four years ago, but this time at least the coin toss came up heads instead of tails. If all remains on track, as of January 20, the sane world can sleep a little better at night.
Nonetheless, that the vote should have been as close as it was, polling predictions to the contrary, is disturbing. As my friend and colleague Joan Walsh wrote at The Nation: “I believed in the idea of a landslide, because it should have been a landslide. I thought the ultimate tally would reflect the grief of losing 235,000 people to COVID. I hoped it would reflect our shame about the thousands of families torn apart at the border. I thought there would be a multiracial uprising against the police violence that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and, going back through the years, hundreds and probably thousands more unarmed black people.
“And four years later, I still thought women would grab this alleged rapist by the ballot, and throw him out into the streets—even if we didn’t four years ago.”
And yet, with a turnout higher than ever, historian Jon Meacham and others note that President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris will have achieved a percentage of the popular vote greater than Harry Truman in 1948, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W. Bush in 2000—and about the same as Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. What’s more, Donald Trump is the first United States president to have lost the popular vote—twice.
He handled it with his characteristic equanimity, coming to the microphone in the White House East Room during the early morning hours after Election Day to rant, “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.” Any news that Joe Biden was ahead was, “a fraud on the American public.” This led journalist McKay Coppins to tweet, “Everyone is desensitized to it, but we really should be scandalized by what the president just did. It was dangerous, irresponsible and terrible for the country. Also completely in character.”
Of course, it didn’t end there—it never does with this guy—as the about-to-be-ex-president kept on and on via frivolous lawsuits—a throwback to his real estate career—tweets and in person that he was being cheated, that he was winning, winning, winning. Thursday evening, he delivered what CNN fact checker supreme Daniel Dale described as “the most dishonest speech of his presidency… Trump emerged in the press briefing room and took a blowtorch to the presidential tradition of defending the legitimacy of the democratic process.” Everything about the process was illegal, Trump insisted, all the counts against him were fake, pollsters “got it knowingly wrong” in an attempt to suppress the votes of his supporters.
Then came late Saturday morning, the big news dropping as Trump, appropriately, was on the links, golfing for the 209th time during his tenure. Presumably, he did not take it well. Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost said on “Weekend Update,” “I know this isn’t really the same as defeating the Nazis, but it did end with a fascist leader hiding in a bunker.”
In Macbeth, Shakespeare said of the traitorous Thane of Cawdor’s calm acceptance of execution, “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” That Trump would so accept his own political demise would require a measure of grace and comprehension he does not now or ever will possess. Axios reports that for now at least the president and most of his minions will keep fighting the election results, even holding rallies around the country to press his case, solely in an effort to soothe his damaged ego. What a colossal pathetic waste.
Since his election, self-interest has trampled community and we are all the worse for it. He’s not entirely to blame for such rancor and division—the tribalization has been growing for decades. Scratch deep and at bottom, as Matthew Cooper noted at Washington Monthly, “Trump is a standard, donor-class Republican with an inhuman face. His anti-immigrant fervor, disdain for defense alliances, and multilateral trade pacts were a patina on traditional Republican faith in the trinity of tax cuts, conservative judges, and deregulation.” But no one in recent times has fanned the flames with more invidious invective, all the while using it for his own political and financial gain.
Needless to say, these next years for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be difficult. Lacking a sweeping mandate and a recalcitrant GOP majority Senate (unless Democrats pick up those two Georgia seats come January), it will be tricky making the progressive gains that so many of us desire. Should Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continue his brutish ways, it even will be difficult to get cabinet appointments past the Senate confirmation process—this despite Joe Biden’s reputation for bipartisan wheeling and dealing and his decades of knowledge of how government works, and what to do when it doesn’t.
Still, the incoming Biden-Harris administration will—as it must under those circumstances—be able to use executive power, including executive orders, “acting” appointments, audit and oversight authority and other White House perks to create changes in both domestic and foreign policy, much as Trump did (while at the same time revoking Trump’s own egregious commands and deregulations, so many of them cruel and destructive). Among Biden’s plans: eradicating Trump’s rollback of 100 Obama White House environmental and public health rules, revitalizing and depoliticizing the civil service, and establishing new ethics guidelines.
The Washington Post reports Biden, “will rejoin the Paris climate accords, according to those close to his campaign and commitments he has made in recent months, and he will reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization. He will repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries, and he will reinstate the program allowing ‘dreamers,’ who were brought to the United States illegally as children, to remain in the country, according to people familiar with his plans.”
In fact, “the shift from Trump to Biden—from one president who sought to undermine established norms and institutions to another who has vowed to restore the established order—will be among the most startling in American history.”
First priority, a new coronavirus task force and the creation of a “supply commander” who will more rigorously and efficiently oversee testing, PPE and when the time comes, vaccine distribution.
Where all of these actions will take us when it comes to advancing a progressive agenda—from protecting and expanding Obamacare and moving toward Medicare for All to infrastructure and immigration programs, a Green New Deal, gun laws and police reform, criminal and social justice—isn’t yet clear.
No amount of scolding from more “moderate” Democrats about why House seats were lost should deter progressives from working toward all of these things; continuing the debate is vital. For sure, we need to figure out better methods to present the message, including a way to stop Republicans from their portrayal of all so-called socialist ideas as some sort of Marxist monsters from the sixties. I suspect most of the GOP—especially Trump—have no clue what socialism actually means in the first place, merely using it as a cudgel, and Trump’s understanding of Marxism is more of the Chico Marx variety—“Who you gonna believe—me or your own eyes?”
What’s for sure is that once we’ve allowed ourselves to savor the overthrowal of Trump—although sadly, failing to fully eviscerate the extremist scourge of Trumpism—and once the Georgia Senate elections are resolved, we need to start vectoring in on the 2022 midterm elections, to work toward turning the Senate bluer, retaking and adding to the seats lost in the House, increasing efforts to reshape state and local legislatures.
Biden’s can’t be a caretaker presidency as Gerald Ford’s was after the Nixon resignation. Luckily, he seems to have surrounded himself with a competent and shrewd group of advisors, many of them women—not so much a team of rivals as a team of professionals capable of working through differences toward the greater good.
The Resistance isn’t over because of this one election. One battle is won and yes, it’s a victory forestalling for now the feared death of American democracy, but when the cheering stops, the hard work must continue and vigilance must remain high. The barbarians are never far from the gates.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.