As I write this late Thursday night, it looks as if Joe Biden could well become the next president of the United States.
And yet, somehow, that wasn’t even the biggest news of the day.
Because earlier on Thursday, we got a full-on glimpse of the future, and it was just as ugly and repulsive as you might expect, only worse, much worse. For the first time in modern history, a sitting president came to the White House briefing room intent on undermining an election, saying it was being stolen, that it was a fraud, that the people who count the votes are corrupt, that “If you count the legal votes, I easily win.”
In making these allegations, Donald Trump provided, of course, no supporting evidence — only that it seemed strange that his big leads in some states would miraculously disappear. He has this thing about disappearing and miracles. I can remember when the coronavirus was supposed to be miraculously disappearing.
There’s no mystery here. What happened to his leads is that more votes were counted — and not, as he alleged, more votes were conveniently found somewhere. Those leads disappeared in states where they counted in-person votes first, which have been usually Republican, and mail-in votes last, usually Democratic. This is happening in Pennsylvania, with a Democratic governor. And it’s happening in Georgia, with a Republican governor who is a close Trump ally. It happened because Trump somehow turned the decision as to whether to mail your ballot into a political choice, like, you know, wearing a mask during a pandemic.
The conspiracy in Trump’s mind, or at least according to the paper he was reading from, includes pollsters, the fake news, big tech and, yes, those people who have been working day and night to get the votes counted. You’d think that if there was a working conspiracy, Trump wouldn’t still have a 64-vote lead in Georgia at 3 a.m. local time.
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“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election,” Trump said. “They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen.”
Most of the networks pulled away from Trump’s speech after it became clear that he was following his all-cap tweets of the day — “STOP THE COUNT!” “STOP THE FRAUD! — with an evidence-free attack on the integrity of the election. Will Trump’s devolution not be televised?
I can hear you asking why this represents the future and not the past. Doesn’t it look as if Biden will probably win?
Well Biden may yet win, but so has Trumpism. Forty-eight percent of Americans, give or take, looked at the last four years of chaos and worse, four years of demagoguery and worse, four hellish years of Trump unloosed, and said, yeah, give me some more of that.
Give me a president who’s willing to rip up the Constitution and hoping, as he has openly said, that his 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court will bail him out. This is not Bush v. Gore with the Supreme Court blatantly, and unforgivably, inserting itself where it didn’t belong. This would be the Supreme Court helping to organize a coup.
And so far, we’re waiting for leading Republicans to, uh, come forward to condemn Trump’s words. We’re waiting and waiting, just as we’re waiting and waiting for the votes to finally be counted.
And yet, it is no surprise to see Trump undermining an election, as if we were, in fact, the banana republic he imagines. He warned everyone he would do this. He has been saying it for months. He has been charging — as all Coloradans know to be false — that mail-in voting is just a way for Democrats to steal an election. Some Republican-led state legislatures, as in Pennsylvania, wouldn’t allow early votes to be counted until Election Day, setting up just such a scenario.
I wonder if any Trump voters are having second thoughts. We’ll wait for that, too.
If winning 48% of the vote can be a rout — it will probably be a point or so less for Trump after all the votes are counted — this was a rout. It looks as if Mitch McConnell will probably hold the Senate, although Democrats may yet have a chance with a pair of run-off Senate elections possible in Georgia. Republicans gained seats in the House. Democrats didn’t move the state legislatures. And, however the vote turns out, Trump remains the leading voice of the Republican Party.
You only had to watch Fox News to see that once Don Jr. and Eric Trump called out Republicans for not standing up for their father, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, among the leading Trump sycophants, would rush to get before the cameras.
Let’s be honest. I don’t think we understand Trumpism today any better than we did when Trump was elected in November 2016. Historians will be working on it for the next 100 years. The question that remains unanswered is whether Trumpism survives without Trump. I’m guessing it definitely survives with him.
I’m not trying to understate the importance of winning the presidency. If Biden does win, America will be able to take important steps toward normalcy. Biden would tackle COVID-19 like an adult. He would treat climate change like the crisis it is. He would do something about DACA. He’d try to undo whatever damage has been done to Obamacare.
And he would have already made his major contribution — having removed Trump from the White House. Beating Trump was always the critical piece of any kind of anti-Trump movement. Biden won the Democratic primary because he was seen as the safest choice, which was probably true, and not because he pointed the way to a new kind of Democrat. If Biden wins, it will be because he rebuilt the crumbling Blue Wall — the one wall, it turned out, that really mattered.
For Democrats and Never Trumpers, nearly as important as beating Trump was the hoped-for repudiation of all things Trump, which plainly didn’t happen. It didn’t happen even as more than 230,000 Americans have died during the pandemic and the number of cases in recent weeks have hit record highs. It didn’t happen even though the economy is in shambles. And it didn’t happen even though we struggle, without any national leadership, to reopen schools and keep businesses afloat.
We watched as nothing happened when Trump and McConnell shut down talks on much-needed stimulus funding. And yet Trump’s enablers in the Senate, minus Cory Gardner, of course, basically went unpunished.
In my life, there have been two presidents — Richard Nixon and now Trump — I have considered threats to the American project. Back when it was still considered funny, some Republican never-Trumpist said that the paranoid, conspiracy-minded Trump was Nixon minus about 50 IQ points.
Before Watergate, before Vietnam, back when Nixon was a mere vice president, Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat who lost two chances at the presidency in the 1950s, spoke of a place called Nixonland: “Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. America is something different.”
Is America something different? It does appear, at long last, that America may well reject Trump, and by more than 4 million votes, as if the popular vote actually mattered. But unless Trump goes away and Trumpism goes with him, we remain much the same nation — divided at its core, with, at last count, nearly half the voters supporting the guy trying to subvert our democracy.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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