So, it looks like Joe Biden has successfully won the presidency, defeating Donald Trump. This is an unalloyed good thing. But in looking at the results, I have very mixed emotions.
The 2016 election of Donald Trump forced me to look at America in a different way. After eight years of Barack Obama, our first Black president, and the assumption that we were about to get our first female President, I had great optimism for the direction of our country. My wife and I joked that we would have to explain to our son, born at the tail end of Obama’s first term, that White men could potentially still become president.
But Trump’s election changed all that. Not only did the ensuing years take the US on a sharp turn backwards, it laid bare important issues. Trump won while (perhaps because) he appealed to the base and racist instincts among many in the electorate.
I thought our country was better than that. Unlike many, I had no illusions that, that after 8 years of Obama, we lived in a “post-racial” paradise. One look at the statistics on racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system, at the segregation that still exists; or just listening to the stories of how Black and Brown people are treated makes it clear that America is no paradise.
But I imagined the world had been heading in the right direction, the arc bending towards justice, and so on.
However, when Donald Trump won in 2016, with a campaign that largely consisted of barely coded (and occasionally explicit) racist appeals used to draw out his base (and discourage those who would support Clinton), it felt like we moved 20 or 30 years or more backwards. We had gone back George H.W. Bush and the Willie Horton ad, to Ronald Reagan and his campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Thus, his success in 2016 caused me to question the nature of our country. If such naked calls to racism were effective, then our country has a lot farther to go than I thought. I’ve known we live in a society filled with systemic racism, designed over 4 centuries to oppress black and brown people. But this showed that it’s not just the system that’s bad, but that a lot of people hold really harmful, negative beliefs.
And now we have 2020. While I’m thrilled Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. But I still worry about what this election tells us about our country. Yes, Joe Biden won more votes than Trump (as did Hillary Clinton in 2016). In fact, he set the record for the most votes ever! But Donald Trump in 2020 received significantly more votes than the 63M he got in 2016. He also managed to expand those willing to vote for him.
And this is after 4 years of Trump being President, of Trump taking actual terrible actions. In 2016, much of the electorate likely based their decision on how they thought Trump would be as President, based on the things he said. Yes, he said terrible things in leading up to the 2016 election (e.g., most Mexicans are rapists and criminals and lowlifes, it’s okay if he assaults women). But he also said (falsely) that he would protect and improve access to healthcare and that he would support a populist economic agendaCome 2020, however, we know how Trump behaves as President. We have the Muslim Ban and the separation of children at the Mexican border, tax policies that favor the wealthy, and actions (including both administrative and judicial appointments) that will prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to an abortion.
So, the people who voted for Trump in 2020 did so knowing all that. These are not the values I thought prevailed in America. Which is why, even with Joe Biden as our next President, I’m worried.
But all is not lost. If we work hard in Georgia, if we continue to pressure all parts of our government, we might achieve a better, safer, more loving country.