It’s Wednesday, November 4.
How you’re feeling this morning depends on which side of an increasingly polarized political divide you find yourself on and the coin-flip outcomes of a handful of swing states, North Carolina included, that tip the scales—or maybe don’t, with millions of mail-in ballots uncounted—toward destruction or salvation. It depends, again, on your point of view.
Perhaps this morning you awoke with heightened anxiety—scrambling against the heaviness of what feels like gravity pulling you off a ledge into chaos. Or maybe you awoke calm with the grounding of a dull gray dawn, uncertain but hopeful. Or maybe, like so many days before, you feel nothing at all.
For many, election night four years ago felt like the country slammed the proverbial red button, but in reality, it’s been more of a slow-motion demolition—a plunge into authoritarianism punctuated by human rights abuses, scandals, and incompetence.
Some of our worst fears haven’t come to fruition since President Donald Trump was elected; we haven’t, for example, kicked off a nuclear war via a tweet or a pissing contest to impress Trump’s base. But many of our worst nightmares have: the full-throated attack on undocumented people by Trump’s immigration cops, the use of riots as a pretext for crushing free speech, the cover and encouragement given to racists and fascists, the rank corruption, and so much more.
Then there was COVID-19, a terror few people who weren’t public health experts could have predicted. Today, more than 231,000 people are dead as Trump continues to pressure states to reopen.
No matter how the votes shake out, it’s equally hard to predict what’s next for all of us. But what’s certain is that in the coming days and weeks, the polarization that has defined the last four years isn’t going away.
It’s become almost cliché to point out that Trump was the result of long-simmering tensions in American political life, but since his inauguration, the president has only further exploited and exacerbated them. Last month, Gallup found that the gap between Democrats and Republicans in Trump’s approval rating was the largest it’s ever been, 92 points, with 95 percent of Republicans approving of the job the president is doing, as opposed to just 3 percent of Democrats.
This isn’t just a problem in the abstract; friendships and families have been destroyed over the last five years, and much of it is due to the fact that Trump and his congressional enablers—not to mention state-level politicians—have helped swing the GOP from a coalition of business interests and religious conservatives into an outwardly fascist movement.
Last week’s Supreme Court decision to not expedite a GOP request to shorten North Carolina’s mail-in ballot counting window sent Trump into a rage, claiming that the election “should END on November 3!”—even though it has never ended on November 3. In Minnesota, a federal appeals court struck down a guidance from election officials and said ballots have to be received by 8 p.m. on election night rather than postmarked, meaning that potentially thousands of ballots that voters were told were valid will be thrown out.
Restricting voting as much as possible during a pandemic was Trump and state GOP officials’ final play, and if it works, we can expect protests similar in size to or greater than what we saw in the wake of Trump’s election and inauguration. Trump could declare victory on a razor-thin margin before counts are finalized. By the time you read this, he may have already.
But a Biden victory, even if seemingly undisputable, could lead to violent protests. Last month, Trump’s Homeland Security secretary admitted that he was “particularly concerned” about white supremacist terrorism. The founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia recently said in an Infowars interview that his group would be at polling places on Election Day to “protect” Trump voters.
The third scenario, possibly the worst, is a drawn-out conflict over who won, harkening back to the 2000 Bush-Gore recount, with an even more conservative Supreme Court ready to hand Trump a second term. The Trump campaign, facing the reality that they’d need an unprecedented comeback to win, has been full-throttle for months trying to muddy the election results as much as possible.
It’s not a sure thing that absentee ballots that arrive after November 3 in states including North Carolina and Pennsylvania will be counted; the Supreme Court is currently allowing them to move forward, but Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation gives the conservative majority another vote to “revisit” it. If that happens, who knows?
There’s a lot we don’t know, but one thing is clear: this dust won’t settle. No matter what happens, if we ever want a better future—labor and economic rights and healthcare for everyone, a cleaner environment, a government that actually works for people—we’re going to have to continue to organize and agitate for it. No one with an iota of political power in the United States, unfortunately, is just going to willingly give it to us.
The threat we’re up against has only become clearer as Trump has spent more time in office. The administration has rolled back even the most modest of regulations on the environment, even as extreme weather and wildfires have become more frequent. Corporate taxes have been slashed to almost nothing, while the GOP continues its relentless attack on a patchwork, inadequate healthcare system that the Affordable Care Act made only slightly better.
And the administration, in concert with the Senate GOP, has shifted both the Supreme Court and the lower courts drastically to the right for the next generation. If nothing is done to reform them, any progress this country has achieved in the past century is on the table: the legal right to an abortion, voting rights, and workplace anti-discrimination efforts, to name just a few. Four more years of Trump would surely mean even more judges on the court to enact a right-wing agenda while being insulated from political consequences.
Joe Biden, the favorite to win heading into the election, isn’t our white knight. He’s the product of the decades of neoliberalism that partially contributed to Trump’s first victory. He’s also one of the main architects of the Democratic Party’s turn away from New Deal politics and race toward the center. While the Biden who ran for president in 1988 and 2008 would hardly recognize the progressive policies of his campaign today, the former vice president explicitly ran in 2020 against expansions of the welfare state like Medicare for All and the version of the Green New Deal introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Most people can’t afford to wait for another set of patchwork reforms to the healthcare system, and we don’t have the time to take a moderate approach to combating climate change, which includes fracking.
We need to keep fighting for those things.
It remains to be seen whether the activist energy that has exploded among liberals and the Democratic Party over the last four years would continue with a Democrat back in the White House. The Trump administration separated families, but the Obama administration also put children in cages, and Biden’s former running mate was labeled the “deporter-in-chief” by activists during his presidency.
Biden recently vowed to reunite more than 500 families with the children they’ve been separated from, and he has said that he’d reinstate the DACA program, which provides a pathway for undocumented people who came to the U.S. at a young age to stay in the country. But his administration could commit the same sort of atrocities against would-be immigrants that the Obama administration did. Would people be responding with the same energy we saw with family separation? What about protests against police brutality?
There are a couple of reasons for cautious optimism. The first is that, unlike with Obama, a lot of Biden voters aren’t blindly buying into his branding this time. Biden has never been a particularly inspiring figure, which means his policies would come under more scrutiny than Obama’s.
The second reason is that the Trump era has seen the birth of an effective roadmap for protesting and pushing back against the increasingly authoritarian nature of the executive branch. When family separation was revealed, the public rallied back against the White House and successfully forced Trump to sign an executive order ending the policy. Activists also successfully rallied to kill the GOP’s legislative attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act. And all across the country this year, racial justice activists made some of their most successful attempts yet at forcing their cities to confront racism and brutality in policing.
One aspect of the last four years that has been particularly encouraging has been the growth of the left and its willingness to challenge both Democrats and Republicans on the decisions that brought us to this nightmare realm. Democratic mayors, prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, and even members of Congress all over the country have been toppled by a new generation of officials who have promised to fundamentally change the system, if not create a new one altogether.
And finally, the country is changing. It’s becoming more diverse, and the Sun Belt is the biggest representation of that, with states like North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona shifting leftward. This doesn’t mean “demographics are destiny,” but it does mean that there are new opportunities to grow the labor and social justice movements that could finally put an end to the Republican domination we’ve seen over the past decade or longer in these states.
Maybe you’re feeling hopeless right now. Maybe, for the first time in four years, there’s a glimmer of sunshine poking through the clouds. Or maybe you feel like none of this really matters. That’s ok, too.
As bleak as things are, we’ve proven that we can change them—not because of the political forces that run this country, but in spite of them. And this is a long-term fight, one that’s not going to end with any election.
It’s Wednesday, November 4. The fight is not over.
This story was published in partnership with Discourse Blog. A version appeared on their website on Tuesday, November 3, at discourseblog.com.
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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