Progressives hoping that the nation would be cleansed of President Trump and the GOP that enabled him in a mandate election Tuesday evening woke up to disappointment Wednesday morning.
Sure, Joe Biden is set to reap the largest popular vote total ever in U.S. electoral history. And of course, he’s likely taken Arizona and is seriously contesting Georgia, two states long considered part of the Republican firewall.
But after four years, Trumpism has not been repudiated.
Many progressives harbored high hopes that a landslide election in Biden’s favor, inaugurating a new Democratic Senate majority with him, would wash the past four years away — that the 230,000 COVID-19 deaths, Trump’s family separation policy, his administration’s obvious corruption, and his cozying up to white nationalists would seem like the death rattle of a spent and diseased political force in American politics.
“There’s a spiritual sickness that has still not been cleansed from the veins of American democracy,” said Rev. William Barber II, a North Carolina pastor and progressive political activist, on Sunday.
But if anything, the results have ratified Trumpism as an electoral force that will remain in our politics for years to come.
Ben Rhodes, a top Obama adviser, tweeted Wednesday morning that the problem with the election is that “this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined, ‘yeah, I want four more years of that.”
I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it's the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined "yeah, I want four more years of that"
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) November 4, 2020
It’s a perspective typical of many on the left.
Miranda Yaver, a political scientist at UCLA, said much the same: that the results are far from an “unambiguous repudiation.”
Biden can still win this.
But it won't be an unambiguous repudiation of the authoritarianism, bigotry, lies, corruption, and overall malevolence that Trump embodies.
And that is a loss for our country.
— Miranda Yaver (@mirandayaver) November 4, 2020
It’s an emotional loss for those who wanted to believe that President Trump was a simple aberration from American history, or that some invisible guard of Republicans were always waiting in the wings to come and help sweep him away in the name of democratic norms.
And even for others, who recognized that Trump’s worst impulses, intentionally or not, tap into deep currents in American history and our current politics, the results fail to suggest that those troubling trends of racial hatred and plutocracy have been put at bay.
Rather, the emotional pitch has now changed from the sense that Trump would soon be purged to preparation for the bare-knuckled fight to come: first to fend off legal challenges from the incumbent President seeking to deny the results of the country’s election and carry on his rule in spite of a free and fair election.
And, then, to grapple with the likely continuation of a Republican Senate majority, placing the possibility of real progressive policy achievements out of reach for at least the next two years, and likely much longer.
Paul Krugman, more of a Nobel laureate than a political pugilist, put it as follows:
“The fight for truth and justice will have to continue,” he wrote. “But it’s going to be far bleaker than seemed likely just 24 hours ago.”