He gave his planned coup the best shot he could, he really did. He executed all the steps. He exhorted his bully-boy supporters to form posses of unofficial “election monitors” and carry their perfectly legal long guns to the polling stations to scare off non-MAGA voters. He and Barr, and assorted other Trumpist toads, promoted the myth of voter fraud at every opportunity, setting the stage for an onslaught of lawsuits and propaganda as soon as Donald started to lose. He hollered about ballots being “tossed into rivers”. He asserted again and again that the only way he could lose was if there was widespread Democratic cheating. He shouted about mail-in ballots as the instruments of just such Democratic election rigging. He did his best to run a pike through the post office, hoping to thwart those mail-in ballots from getting to the polls on time. He downplayed COVID to his credulous supporters, driving them in droves to vote in person, risk be damned, lest the sabotage cut both ways and cause their votes to arrive late too. He got GOP legislatures to forbid tabulation of the millions of mail ballots that flowed in until after the final voting, ensuring a protracted delay in key States like Pennsylvania, the better to facilitate his cries of fraud, and the launching of court actions to stop those predominantly Democratic votes from being counted. When the time came, the court actions were launched. He got on TV, railed against the fictional fraud, and declared himself the winner. All was just as planned. The scheme clicked down the rails like a freight train from Hell, rolling towards destiny with all the sly subtlety of a Wehrmacht armoured thrust, loudspeakers bolted to the first phalanx of Panzers blaring the Horst Wessel.
Maybe that was the fatal flaw in the grand scheme: he was just so frigging obvious about it, every step of the way. In typical Donald fashion, he didn’t so much telegraph his intentions as assemble the press corps and walk them through a PowerPoint. By the time the operation was in full swing, everybody was ready for it, saw through it, and resisted. Postal workers doggedly hauled the mail. Stalwart volunteers came forward in unexpected numbers to work at the polls, determined to fight for their democracy. As the count progressed they laboured into the night, working all the while under the close supervision of bi-partisan teams of monitors, their process televised over closed circuit to ensure unimpeachable transparency. With a couple of exceptions, the mobs of open-carry MAGA militiamen didn’t show up, and nothing akin to Roger Stone’s infamous Florida Brooks Brothers Riot emerged to impede the counting. Those who did form hostile crowds couldn’t get straight what they were supposed to be demanding; the idea seems to have been to chant STOP THE COUNT if Donald was already ahead, or COUNT THE VOTES if he was behind but gaining. This, perhaps, looked good on paper, but only led to farce as they advocated opposite positions in different States. Equally farcical was that the aggrieved chants to count the votes, bellowed where Trump was losing, were delivered at the doors of the very buildings inside of which the election workers were, indeed, doing their utmost to count all the votes.
Then Donald, apparently not grasping the nuance, tweeted that the count should stop generally, everywhere, until his advisors explained that if everybody dropped their shovels all across the country and the count was frozen as-is, Biden would be the winner. More farce. Once they got through to him – presumably they had to deploy the hand puppets – Donald withdrew his STOP THE COUNT tweet and replaced it with the rather less pointed STOP THE FRAUD, which left his diminishing ranks of confused MAGA monsters at loose ends, not knowing whether to threaten riot and insurrection if the count wasn’t stopped, or if it wasn’t carried through to the bitter end. So much for the intimidation/disruption phase of the operation.
By the time the clown car pulled up in Philadelphia to disgorge the crack legal team led by – who else? – Rudy Giuliani, there to launch another preposterous suit based upon no cause of action known to law, the whole thing was collapsing amid gales of derisive laughter. Flanked by luminaries like Eric Trump, Lara Trump, and Corey Lewandowski, Rudy held a press conference at which he yelled, ill-advisedly, “Do you think we’re stupid? Do you think we’re fools?” (but failed to add “don’t answer that”). The courts, bless them, were all the while unimpressed. Even the suit to throw out ballots in Texas, argued before an arch-conservative judge, fell flat on its face.
When Donald marched into the East Room to deliver what was supposed to have been the master-stroke, but devolved instead into a whiny parody of one of Kim Jong Un’s less inspirational harangues, he looked pathetic, beaten, and anything but dangerous. Nothing if not persistent, he gamely babbled his scripted, implausible allegations of a vast conspiracy to undo his legitimate victory until the networks, as much bored as alarmed by the grift, simply cut the feed. The delicious contempt of it! They killed his mike. Anderson Cooper then came on screen on CNN to describe the soon to be ex-President as “an obese turtle on his back, flailing in the hot sun, realizing his time is over.”
There must be some kind of award we can bestow upon Cooper for that one.
This morning, while the thing was still not officially over, it looked like Biden was definitely going to take Nevada and Pennsylvania, and maybe Georgia and Arizona too, which all together would give him something like 306 Electoral College votes, comfortably north of the necessary 270, and about the same amount as Donald won in 2016. Various combinations of fewer wins, or a win in Pennsylvania alone, will seal the deal, and it will all be over but the doomed last-gasp lawsuits and the recounts that won’t change anything.
Great – but yikes that was close. We should all be profoundly grateful for how it was run, and how it turned out, as well as for all the terrible things that didn’t happen. History may well remember this election as a moment of high peril survived, of disaster averted, when Americans rose up in just enough numbers to rescue the Republic from the clutches of a would-be autocrat. It might fairly be called a deliverance, even though to many it might not seem as if it was such a near run thing, now that we’re home and dry, enjoying the happy aftermath. So many things went so right that it reminded me of Y2K, when the clocks ticked over to midnight, and the lights stayed on. One was tempted to think there’d never been anything to fear in the first place. There are those who know better. We were both lucky, and blessed by the efforts of many thousands who made it all happen. Surely, this is a moment to celebrate.
And I am celebrating. I wouldn’t be me, though, if I didn’t warn that this is no time for euphoria. We can’t lose sight of the trials ahead. If McConnell and his fellow GOP obstructionists hang on to the Senate, which they probably will – though it looks like the matter won’t be determined until two excruciating run-offs are completed in Georgia, leaving the Dems a long-shot chance in which we’d be foolish to invest too much hope – we might well be at an impasse. It’s not as if Mitch will be chastened by the scope of Biden’s mandate; there is no mandate, not enough of one to worry Mitch, anyway. The Democratic victory, even in the best scenario, is going to be a lot less of a thumping than we all anticipated, and risks seeming bigger than it is owing to the distortions of the damnable Electoral College. We mustn’t let it fool us. This is no sweeping repudiation of all things Trumpian.
The fact is that when the dust settles, Biden will have garnered more votes than any candidate in US history, but Trump will have collected history’s second highest total, and millions more than he got in 2016. The final tally looks likely to wind up at roughly 75 million to 70 million, a margin for Biden of about 3%, maybe a little more. That’s par for the course in Presidential elections these days, it’s even pretty good as these things go, but still, it’s a disappointing artifact of how divided the country remains. Victory in several key states will be much narrower, the winner being determined by just a few thousand votes at percentages so low that in some places recounts will be required by law. As I write this, Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania is roughly 23,000 out of over 6.5 million cast, about 0.2 of a percentage point, representing the will of only a couple of thousand more folks than attend an average playoff hockey game, and a hell of a lot fewer than show up on any given Sunday to cheer for the Steelers.
Meanwhile, the Dems look to have failed to take the Senate, and actually lost significant ground in the House. McConnell, taking it all in, can only calculate that Trump’s MAGA base remains vast and powerful, and must therefore be appeased. Many millions will believe that Donald was cheated out of the White House. They’ll demand, long and loud, that their GOP Senators resist the Dems at every turn, and Mitch isn’t likely to push back against The Base, any more than the likes of Lindsay Graham, Susan Collins, Joni Ernst and John Cornyn are apt to break ranks with Mitch. Just look at Graham’s behaviour over the past couple of days, showing up on Fox to yip at Hannity about fraud and Trump getting shafted. He knows Trump is going to lose, but he’s still just as afraid of The Base as he was when he stopped calling Donald a lunatic and switched to worshiping him in public as his Orange God King.
What we have here, then, is a recipe for perpetual gridlock. Any sort of so-called progressive policy, even the seemingly uncontroversial variety that saves lives and averts catastrophe, will probably be impossible to get past the Senate. Biden thinks he can reach across the aisle, and make the sort of horse-trading deals that used to be the staple of US governance, but it’s hard not to feel that he’s fooling himself with fond memories of a quieter time, when party discipline was shaky and voters would switch their allegiance if, say, one party worked like hell to cut them all off from their health care while gifting tax breaks to the 0.001% crowd and generally throwing the middle class under the bus. That was then, and then ain’t now. These days it all comes down to tribe. The tribe must win. The other tribe must never get its way. Elephant good. Donkey bad. So it appears anyway, as fond as our hopes to the contrary might be.
Joe will have to give it a shot, of course, just like Obama did. Maybe some sort of limited compromise, please-everybody, win-win bill is feasible – infrastructure maybe? – or maybe Biden won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the mildly good, and grab on to any COVID relief bill Mitch is willing to pass, however sadly inadequate it is, just to prove to the other side that compromise deals are possible. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Maybe Joe’s right. Maybe this time it’s different. Maybe Mitch won’t reckon that he can pull the same stunt he did with Obama, and simply stop all government from happening, without this time paying some political price.
Sure. If, however, McConnell continues to be McConnell, and stands in the way of absolutely everything, including appointments to fill vacancies on the courts, those on the right side of history mustn’t succumb to the despair that so often afflicts liberals in these situations, and simply give up, not even bothering to show up for the midterms. Biden isn’t going to the White House because Trumpism died, or Donald couldn’t motivate the masses to vote for his vile sort of racist populist nationalism. He got 70 million votes. Joe’s going to be sitting in the Oval instead of Donald because his side wouldn’t quit, and mustered an even larger cohort to the polls by dint of furious effort and unflagging determination. These days that’s the only way to win, and most every win from now on is liable to be a photo finish.
Somehow, now, Biden has to motivate the troops to keep it up. He has to convince his voters not to grow frustrated and disillusioned by GOP intransigence, and accept that putting a Democrat in the White House was merely a necessary but insufficient first step. It staunched the bleeding, but secures only stalemate. Those inclined to vote Democrat have to keep coming out, every election, at every level. They have to vote, vote again, then vote some more, in the mid-terms, in State legislative and Gubernatorial races, in contests to pick mayors and city councils, and in every other battle for every frickin’ office a Republican might hold. It took the GOP many years to set up their minority rule, working at every level to effect their gerrymandering and voter suppression. They worked to a plan, even buying up local media to push their propaganda, while oozing into every niche, and seizing every scintilla of power they could, anywhere it was there to be grabbed. It will take just as many years to fight back, long, tiresome, demoralizing years in which the main reward in the interim will be stopping more damage, not achieving anything decent and new. One Presidential election doesn’t propel us on to any vast, sunlit upland. The fight’s just begun. Going forward, we need steel in our backbones. There’s nothing else for it.
This feels like a good time to pull out the old Bartlett’s and quote Churchill, who, after victory was secured in a single campaign during what he knew would be a painfully protracted war, reminded his weary people that this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.