At this moment, it looks as if Joe Biden will win. But no matter who is President when the smoke clears and the votes are all counted–if they are– we learned some things on Tuesday. And the lessons weren’t pleasant.
The most obvious–and ultimately least consequential–is that polling is not nearly as “scientific” as the pollsters think. The effort to figure out what went so wrong will undoubtedly occupy pundits and nerds for a long time.
The far more painful lesson concerns the nature of our fellow-Americans.
I read about the thuggery leading up to the election–the “good old boys” in pickups ramming Biden’s bus, the desecration of a Jewish graveyard in Michigan with “MAGA” and “Trump” spray paint, the consistent, nation-wide efforts to suppress urban and minority voters–but until election night, I’d convinced myself that those responsible represented a very small segment of the population.
I think what I am feeling now is what Germany’s Jews must have felt when they realized the extent of Hitler’s support.
I am not engaging in hyperbole: the research in the wake of 2016 is unambiguous. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly motivated by racial and religious animus and grievance. White nationalist fervor has swept both the U.S. and Europe over the past few years, but it has taken firmer hold here. The QAnon conspiracy has clear roots in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and America’s racism–our original sin–has provided fertile ground for the alt-right sympathizers who defend tearing brown children from their parents, treating both immigrants and citizens of color as disposable, and keeping women in “our place.”
Trump didn’t invent these people, but he has activated them. Indeed, he is one of them.
I thought it was tragic when Trump’s approval ratings forced me to recognize that more than a third of America fell into that category. I find it inconceivable–but inarguable and infinitely depressing–that the actual number is close to half.
Evidently, the America I thought I inhabited never really existed. I’m in mourning for the country I believed was mine.