As we watch the dust settle from the November election, many of us are torn: we are immensely relieved that Trump was emphatically defeated, but disappointed that the polling was so wrong, that the Democrats failed to take the Senate and win the many statehouse races around the country that looked within the party’s grasp.
Milbank reminded his readers just how significant the election results were, and noted that the recriminations and dismay fail to do justice to “the historic victory that Democrats, independent voters and a brave few Republicans just pulled off.”
They denied a president a second term for the first time in 28 years — putting Trump in the company of Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. President-elect Biden — just writing that brings relief — received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, in an election with historically high voter turnout. A president who loves to apply superlatives can now claim a RECORD, HUGE and BIGGEST EVER defeat….
Ousting a demagogue with the loudest megaphone in the land is not an easy undertaking. Trump’s opponents had to overcome an unprecedented stream of disinformation and falsehoods from the president, even as his party normalized the assaults on truth, on facts, on science, on expertise. Trump’s opponents were up against a strongman who used the Justice Department, diplomats and the intelligence community to harass political opponents, who used federal police to suppress public demonstrations, who engaged in a massive campaign of voter intimidation and suppression, and who used government powers for political advantage: enlisting government employees to campaign for him, sabotaging postal operations, putting his name on taxpayer-funded checks, using the White House for a party convention. And Trump’s opponents had to contend with a Fox News cheering section and social-media landscape that insulated millions from reality.
It would be great if We the People could now just breathe sighs of relief and go back to our apathetic ways–back to the time before Trump where majorities of citizens essentially ignored politics and government–leaving policy to the political class. A sweeping victory that included the Senate would undoubtedly be seen as a signal that “our long national nightmare is over” and we can return to our previous preoccupations.
That would be a mistake. Perhaps a fatal one.
The Trump administration has been a symptom. A frightening one, for sure, but a warning that when large numbers of citizens take a protracted absence from participation in the democratic process, bad things happen. People like Mitch McConnell gain power. The rich and well-connected bend the laws in their favor. Politicians who place the exercise of power above the common good are entrenched. The planet suffers.
In past posts, I have enumerated many–certainly not all– of America’s structural issues and the way those issues have facilitated our transformation into a kakistocracy. We the People have our work cut out for us, and just as the obvious dangers of the Trump administration served as a wake-up call for millions of Americans who had been ignoring our downward spiral, the fact that seventy million Americans voted not just for a frighteningly mentally-ill ignoramus, but for the party that enabled him, must serve as a warning.
Americans who live in the reality-based community cannot afford to lapse back into complacency and the never-well-founded belief that “it can’t happen here.”