November 4, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The ideal is gone. Time to face the real

The "blue wave" didn't happen. The "blue shift" probably will.

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I had a bad night, too. This morning was better. I had a good cry. That always helps. Then I thought about things. That also helps. It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden wins, but one thing seems certain: fascism will be with us for a long time to come.

Perhaps I was misled. Or allowed myself to be misled. I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe polling showing Biden ahead of Donald Trump even deep in the heart of Texas. I wanted to believe last night would provide clarity. The coming days and nights are going to be tender and frightening. There will be blood. Most of that could have been avoided with a decisive victory. That ideal, however, is now gone. Time to face the real.

I had a bad night, too, but all this messiness was expected.

Here’s the real. Votes are still being counted in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia. A lot of Democratic voters cast absentee ballots. Votes that are still being counted, therefore, are probably for Biden. Trump, meanwhile, has no wiggle room. If Biden wins just Michigan and Wisconsin, and that seems where the vote tally is headed, he can lose the rest. He wins the Electoral College by a hair.

The problem is that “by a hair” means the president will mount legal challenges. An additional problem is Trump declaring victory before all the votes have been counted. Moreover, his made-up allegations of “voter fraud” are being heard by federal judges, including six “conservatives” on the US Supreme Court. They could rule that voting be stopped, or certified before being completed, to protect “vote integrity.” That would be the worst-case scenario. That would be a mortal wound for republican democracy.

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Votes are still being counted with respect to the US Senate, too. Democrats knocked off two Republicans (one in Colorado, one in Arizona) while a Republican knocked off one Democrat (the honorable Doug Jones of Alabama). Two Georgia races appear to be in the air. So seem races in North Carolina and Maine. The Democrats need two more to take majority control if Biden wins. They will need three more if Biden loses. These too will probably be subject to legal challenges. Best to settle in for the long autumn.

The other fight will play out in the streets. That’s where the human toll will be. The more votes that come in, the bigger Biden’s lead will be. And the bigger his lead is, the more the president will cry foul. That, in turn, will inspire anti-Trump activists to protest with the goal of pressing the Democrats to carry on the fight. And that, in turn, will inspire heavily armed white-wing vigilantes, who already believe Trump when he says the election is being rigged against him, to take matters into their own hands.

The messiness we’re seeing was predicted. A study group commissioned by Michael Bloomberg warned of a “red mirage” before a “blue shift”—the appearance of Trump’s victory followed by days of vote-counting culminating with Biden’s. During that period, the study group said, the president would probably declare victory prematurely (he did) or mount legal challenges to the ongoing vote count (he will). He’d continue to sow division and incite violence. This prediction, in other words, is what to expect. It may end up being more prescient than all the polling giving you and me false hope.

That hope, for me, was a dramatic and total repudiation of the last four decades of conservative orthodoxy. I was hoping 2020 would be to Joe Biden what 1980 was to Ronald Reagan. I was wrong, but then again, maybe that already happened. Today’s GOP is hardly conservative. Mitch McConnell, who won last night, condoned democracy’s hijacking: “I’m not troubled at all by the president suggesting that,” he said of Trump declaring victory. The election will go to the courts, he said, where the newest Justice Amy Coney Barrett is expected to return on the GOP’s investment.

That remains to be seen. For now, let’s mourn the fact that millions of Americans do not see the error they made four years ago. Let’s grieve the fact that millions of Americans prefer an authoritarian kleptocracy to a republican democracy. That said, let’s not have any more bad nights. No more crying. No more despair. This was never going to be easy. Last night reminded us of that. Maybe we should be grateful.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    A sad day indeed. In 2016, many voters for Donald Trump could be forgiven for assuming that his chaotic, red meat-throwing theatrics would tamp down–that it was all part of the show before a cooler head would be revealed. We now know better. In the end, the tragedy tonight is what it reveals about much of the American electorate.

    In brief, it’s no longer the case that much of it cares to defer to or even defend the principles that preserve democracy when it is under threat. Instead, we are seeing firsthand a replay of the fascistic psychological underbelly–little different from Weimar Germany or the Spanish Republic– that now is an openly embraced reality for nearly half of the electorate.

    This is a group that thinks we’ll all be just fine without those defenses to democracy. And while you might think the ultimate expression of this fascistic sentiment will look a lot like Putin’s Russia, it doesn’t have to be. Where an economy is especially vibrant and capitalistic, it can look just as easily like Pinochet’s Chile or Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore.

    The enthusiasm for Trump is sadly one of the greatest projections of inner id we’ve ever seen within an electorate. Incompetence in governance or open self-dealing are no longer disapproved by at least half of our fellow voters. And it will not do to say we are dealing with ill-informed voters–lied into voting against their own interests by Fox and Sinclair Broadcasting. There are just too many voters who, it is now evident, are quite open about their lack of interest in the preservation of democratic principles.

    I suspect if you ask any of them why they voted for Trump, you’re likely to get a lot of one-issue fetishists (guns, fetuses, taxes, and Jesus), with a strong sprinkling of unspoken racism, misogyny, and homophobia. These voters are not uninformed. Quite the opposite. They are informed. They just don’t care. Democracy is too abstract. Instead they obsess over whatever others are getting that they’re presumably not–and happy to sacrifice their liberty in pursuit of that mysterious pot of gold at the end of someone else’s rainbow (which some will get and many won’t).

    This is the worst of all possible signs. Their self-interest is still self-interest, but it’s Trump’s version of self-interest. And what that is not is enlightened self-interest.

  2. hw on July 30, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    For me, it was the death of hope. Even with a very slim Biden win, which itself is improbable, with a GOP Senate, no meaningful legislation will be passed and no judicial nominations will proceed. 50% of the population would refuse a “Biden vaccine”. Hitler was only stopped by a world war, and we now have a global pandemic and weakened democracies at every turn. Permanent damage from global warming is 5 years away at best, and in its wake, more mass death. As we continue our downward spiral, the chance that the House will flip in 2022 is very likely, and with it, a gutting of entitlements to ‘balance the budget’. I don’t see any light only the end of a very dark tunnel. Perhaps others see something I am missing.

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