No, Biden’s election won't end the nightmare
The Post’s George Will gave voice to an opinion I’ve heard a lot lately—Joe Biden’s victory over the president would mark the end of our “long national nightmare.” The thing about this opinion is that it sounds right. The other thing about this opinion is that sounding right makes it doubly wrong. The nightmare is not going to be over, and everyone thinking it’s going to be over will be complicit in its long-term viability.
Setting aside the problem of presuming Donald Trump is going to lose based on recent polling, and setting aside the problem of presuming the election is going to be fair, consider this: his aggregate approval across-the-board has been and remains about 40-43 percent. That’s not high, but it’s still a lot, especially when you look at the same metric among Republican voters, which is in the high eighties, low nineties. What this tells you is lots of people in this country either like or condone authoritarianism. The old saying in Europe is that a third of it aims to murder a third of it while the other third watches. That might not describe the US exactly, but I’d say we’re headed there.
For this reason, the Republican Party—even if a tidal wave crashes on Trump—is not going to snap out of it and mend its way. That’s a tale told by individuals wanting to believe cold-blooded partisans as not as cold-blooded as they thought. Or by alienated conservatives wanting to believe in good faith that their old party can be redeemed. (Recent Bulwark pieces by Charlie Sykes [“Burn It All Down?”] and Mona Charen [“The GOP Needs to Hit Rock Bottom”] represent nicely this magical school of thought.) Why seek redemption when over a third of the United States approves of enriching the very rich, criminalizing the weak and disenfranchising the rest? A defeated GOP will almost certainly grow more extreme, as members who managed to survive an anti-Trump landslide will be from safe districts. If the president wins, well, the party will take that to mean it’s all right to go full-fascist. Either way, soul-searching is unlikely.
I don’t see how the “long national nightmare” will be over when 40-43 percent of the country, for the last three and half years and more, has consistently and unwaveringly supported the president’s words and deeds, no matter how despicable they are, or saw loyal opposition from the Democratic Party as so dangerous they abandoned their previous claims to the union. These people want a president to kidnap kids from their immigrant moms. They want a president to banish Muslims. They want a president to privilege white orthodox Christianity. They want a president to punish Black people and LGBTQ people for being who they are. They want a president to deploy secret police to crush dissent. And they hate their “enemies” so much they are willing to overlook a president’s treason. These people will still be here after Election Day.
That’s why the Democrats, if and when they have unified control of government, must change the rules of normal politics. Losing isn’t going to change the Republican Party. Changing the electorate, however, will. To that end, the Democratic Party must pass sweeping voting rights legislation; kill off the Senate filibuster; push to turn Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., into states; grant full citizenship to all immigrants; defund and reorganize the US Department of Homeland Security; in addition to a host of other measures that would force the Republican Party to act reasonably, because without acting reasonably, the GOP won’t have another reasonable shot at power.
But to do that, the rest of us must remember the unpleasant truth about our fellow Americans, which is that more than a third of them would cheer, or shrug, if the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the other two-thirds. They are the “real Americans,” after all. What obligations do they have to unreal Americans? (Some of them would even catch the virus on purpose in order to hasten that end!) When they vote, most people believe mistakenly that the political opposition can be reasoned with. These people need to vote like their lives depend on it, because their lives depend on it.
Sadly, most Americans will forget the truth, even if they vote for own their lives on Election Day, and they will forget the truth because they desire forgetting. This goes double for white Americans who feel the pain of being reminded of their whiteness by a president who appeals to white supremacy. Once he’s gone, white people’s pain will be gone, and once white people’s pain is gone, white people will experience the privileged pleasure of forgetting, and in doing so, permit the nightmare to live on.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.