Saturday, November 7, 2020

"Put Not Your Trust in Princes"

Given the polls and predictions prior to the election, millions of jubilant Democrats might well have expected to channel the Duke of Gloucester (through the imagination and pen of Shakespeare) at the accession of his brother England's King Edward IV: Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of Scranton.  Shakespeare's famous metaphor about a sun of York might still be so adapted today in the imagination of many millions of relieved Democrats. But relieved rather than jubilant may be now the right word. Had Joe Biden's election been clear on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning and had it conformed more to the pre-election polls and predictions, and (much more important) carried with it a Democratic Senate, certainly there would have been jubilation for many, who now must settle for mere relief. Even so, relief remains better than despair!

It won't be official, of course, until the electors vote on December 14 and their votes are counted by Congress on January 6. It appears, however, that Biden has won the presidency with at least 273 electoral votes to Trump's 214 (with several states and their electoral votes yet to be called). In the popular vote, as of this morning, Biden won 50.6% of the popular vote (74,819,484), compared to 47.7%  for Trump (70,561,283). That is more votes than any other candidate in American history. This also means that the Democrats have now won the most votes in seven of the past eight presidential elections, the first time any political party has accomplished that in American history. In its own terms, that is quite an accomplishment, although it is still not quite enough in our dysfunctional political and constitutional system to make much of a difference in our politics. 

So once again (even more decisively than last time) a majority of voters have voted against Trump. And this time they were successful. Trump will soon be evicted from the White House, and the country's second Catholic President will move in. Yet, while the Democrats did a credible job of motivating and turning out an energized "base," so did the Republicans who may even have enlarged theirs. Thus this was not quite the "persuasion election" that some had been predicting (or, more likely, just hoping for). On the contrary, this election, like the last one (but even more so), reveals an America almost evenly divided, an increasingly Disunited States, in which the political cleavage increasingly coincides with geographical and cultural cleavages, creating a dysfunctional polity in which each side largely defines itself in terms of its hatred and fear of the other.

More than anything else, Biden, without actually using Warren Harding's famous phrase from 100 years ago, has seemed to promise a return to normalcy - highlighting and opposing especially those aspects of the Trump presidency that made it so abnormal and so uniquely frightening to so many these past four terrifying years. In that President-Elect Biden will personally behave differently from President Trump and will conduct himself more according to the law and conventional norms, in that he will try to unite the country President Trump set out deliberately to divide, that may prove to be his main legacy. Liberating the land from some of the particular pathologies that have so seriously aggrieved it these past four years is in itself an accomplishment.

Yet, as has been pointed out so often by so many, Trump's rise to power in the first place was possible precisely because the old political "normal" had already failed for so many alienated Americans, who felt left behind, left out, passed by, ignored, and looked down upon as "deplorables" by their globalist, cosmopolitan, coastal betters, and so have turned for reassurance and satisfaction to a demagogue who provided them no tangible benefits but compensated by skillfully spreading hatred and Nietzschean resentiment. Sadly, even if the deliberately divisive demagogue will be gone from the White House, little else has happened, and little is likely to happen, to overcome those deep divisions in our society.

I Moreover, for President-Elect Biden and the incoming Democratic Administration to accomplish much of anything substantive (including much needed electoral and voting rights reforms) would have required a Democratic victory of sufficient dimensions to have both definitively repudiated Trump and won control of both houses of Congress. As it is, with the Senate still almost certainly in Republican hands, we can expect Mitch McConnell to oppose any and all initiatives from the new Administration. While Biden may still be personally nostalgic for the good-old-days of bi-partisan cooperation, we must expect from the Republicans more Obama-era obstruction, gridlock, and inaction, which will further alienate voters and thus make Democratic losses in 2022 and 2024 even that much more likely. Biden will presumably be somewhat successful in improving the U.S. response to the covid calamity (an obvious priority). Beyond that, he will probably do as other lame-duck presidents without complete control of Congress have done - seek success abroad. Rebuilding our alliances, restoring trust in America around the world, returning to the Paris climate accord and the JCPOA would all be eminently worthy accomplishments. But they will not heal America's broken heart. 

nInevitably, there needs to be some serious soul-searching in the aftermath of this election on the part of the Democrats who missed an opportunity to make more inroads where predicted. Now may be the time to discard simplistic models of demographic change (to appreciate, for example, the diversity of Latinos and Latinas, who transcend the ideological construct of "Latinx"). It is time to relearn that other people exist outside one's own social and information bubble, and that acquiring political power is predicated on persuasion and coalition-forming. This should be a challenge for the more extreme wing of the party to reflect upon how demonstrably out of touch it continues to be with so many otherwise potentially receptive voters. 

 May it also be an occasion for reflection for those on the other side - such as the so-called "Religious Right" - who seem to have forgotten the words of the psalmist, Put not your trust in princes (Psalm 146:3), and have allied themselves with Trump and his political party in the vain pursuit of earthly political power, a devil's bargain that may unhappily boomerang and haunt the Churches going forward.


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