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“I am just grief stricken by how many Americans are OK with racist dog whistling and white supremacy and cutesy nods to white nationalism. Even if 45 is gone, that all stays. This is who we are.”
A friend, the White mother of a Black child, posted this on Facebook on election night. That last line floored me: This is who we are.
I wanted to write back and disagree with her, to argue that this is not who we are, that I chose this country as my second home not just for the opportunities I saw were possible here, but because I believed just the opposite was true.
But, of course, she was right.
This election is a mirror on this country, a referendum on good versus evil, decency versus crudity. Last night was supposed to be that part of the movie where everyone voted for the good guy because we wanted to show we’re better than that.
But like so much in this year, this decade, and this country’s history, what was “supposed to be” never came to pass. There was no “blue wave.”
More than 67 million voters in this country witnessed, along with the rest of us, the intentional cruelty, the unrepentant racism, the proud misogyny, the bold-faced lies, and shameless disregard of human and planetary life that Donald Trump and his enablers displayed over 1,385 exhausting days.
We witnessed him launch his campaign by attacking immigrants, then exploit the power of his office to take this country’s animosity toward newcomers to new heights. We witnessed him repeatedly lie about his taxes, while refusing to reveal them; then when it came to light that this self-proclaimed “billionaire” president paid less in annual taxes than most hourly workers, the nation collectively shrugged. We witnessed him roll back and reverse critical environmental protections, insult our global allies, and call White supremacists “very fine people,” who should “stand by” if the election doesn’t go his way. We witnessed how callously he’s handled the pandemic, literally mocking COVID-19, with no obvious regard for the more than 233,000 lives it has taken in this country.
More than 67 million people witnessed all that, then trotted off to the polls to return the man to office: “Four more years, please.”
This leaves me with one nagging, existential question: alongside a raging global pandemic, what will four more years of Trump rule, if he wins, do to an already fragile Democracy that hardly survived the first four?
And what of our collective mental health?
Florida. Ohio. Georgia. Poll after poll, which I vowed not to follow after what happened in 2016, had Joe Biden ahead or neck and neck for weeks leading up to Election Day. But Trump broke the polls this year, just as he did in 2016.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I reveled in the more than 100 million who voted early. Those lines of people waiting in the rain and in the heat—some of them breaking into dance just to while away the time—buoyed my spirits. I imagined people so disgusted and frustrated with this corrupt administration, they were willing to wait for hours to be certain their vote got in on time and ensure it was counted.
We may not know for days yet—perhaps weeks even—who the next U.S. president will be.
But this much is clear: Donald Trump did not create the divisiveness in this country. But he gave it air, fed it, and legitimized a massive platform of hate that cultivated it. It’s a disease gnawing away from the inside, like a parasite. And it won’t go away even if Trump is voted out of office.
Even now, Trump is seeking to disenfranchise legitimate voters, many of them his very supporters, by claiming victory he hasn’t earned and threatening to go to the Supreme Court that he padded to stop any vote count after the polls closed.
This might be who we are now. It might even be who we’ve always been. But this doesn’t have to be who we always will be. I believe this is a work in progress, this adopted country of mine. As another friend wrote on Facebook on election night: “it’s not my mother’s world, where women were fired from their teaching jobs if they got pregnant or married … where the very idea that gay people could marry was anathema … where paternity leave was unthinkable.”
But this nation was built on racism, violence, and sexism, and replacing its entire foundation isn’t easy.
If Biden wins, he faces an uphill battle without the Democrat-controlled Senate he had hoped for. But a Biden presidency at least gives us a leader who has vowed to be president of not “blue states” or “red states” but these United States. He also offers some hope for a smoother, easier path for bringing a divided nation together. But even that prospect is tenuous and far from guaranteed.
A Trump victory brings us predictably a worse, meaner, uglier, more destructive version of his past four years, likely emboldened by re-election. It means that the resistance lives on a little longer for all the already weary souls in the trenches. It means the organizers who warned us not to get overconfident, who stressed that electoral politics were never the path to liberation, were right. It means we’ll have to work a little harder to overcome what comes next, to pull out all the stops, put our comfort and privilege on the line, and come together like never before if we want this “American experiment” to be one that persists.
Lornet Turnbull is the former civil liberties editor for YES!, a Seattle-based freelance writer, and a regional freelance writer for The Washington Post. An award-winning enterprise reporter who's worked in media for more than 20 years, Lornet has covered everything from the auto industry and labor unions in Michigan, to real estate and statehouse politics in Ohio, to homelessness in Seattle, to refugee children in the West Bank, and sex workers in Mexico City. She speaks English.