Donald Trump was a sore winner. There was never any way he was going to be a gracious loser.
He does not embody any of the classic American traits of fairness, honesty, and good sportsmanship. Historically, we are honorable in victory and defeat (which, by the way, is what makes those “A Racist Lives Here” signs on Trump supporters’ lawns in Coronado so dispiriting). We coined the phrase “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” but our out-going president must win at any cost.
Who will miss the constant kvetching? Everything is stacked against the poor downtrodden billionaire. Always complaining, always working the refs, always with an ugly name for anyone who doesn’t embrace him. Conversely, he always has praise for the most despicable characters who do embrace him.
Instead of the full-blown repudiation that many hoped for and expected, it was a squeaker. There was no Blue Wave. In some ways, it’s not even about Donald Trump. He was a convenient container for the angst and anger a lot of Americans feel. A catalyst, even, but nothing more than an accelerant. Nearly half of us, mostly but not exclusively rural, white men (and to a lesser extent, women) without a college degree, are disaffected. Do they want to isolate, cozy up to dictators, or start trade wars? I think not. But neither do they want the progressive cultural changes surrounding race, sexual orientation, and gender.
In a year that many thought would see Democrats swamp the House and turn the Senate, they actually lost ground. Their inability to take advantage of a unique moment in American politics when the President was a clear and present danger to the republic, probably owes more to conservative media rhetoric, repeated ad infinitum, than policy.
In a major realignment, the Republican Party is now the party of the rural/exurban white working class, and the Democrats are the party of the racially diverse, educated city and suburban dwellers. We are at an impasse and unless or until a magnetic, unifying figure like a Kennedy, Reagan, or Obama emerges, there will be few landslide mandates.
History suggests only our foreign adversaries are happy about this turn of events. And history has a way of clarifying things. Perspective is gained. Minds that were set in stone are changed. My generation hated LBJ because of Vietnam, but we’ve come to see him as a creature of his times. Without LBJ, there would be no Civil Rights Act, no Voting Rights Act, and no Medicare.
Following 9-11, George W. Bush started an unnecessary war. He destabilized the Middle East (which I know is kind of like saying Jerry Springer destabilized daytime television). Twenty years later, history is in the process of forgiving him for a failure of judgment, not a failure of character.
It is doubtful that history will have similar regard for Donald J. Trump, who, while cynically voicing the anger of many, was ultimately just out for himself.
So where to now that we know the havoc a run-amok president can wreck? President-elect Biden will undo the Executive Orders that undermined our system of checks and balances while Congress moves HB 1, a bill intended to tighten the myriad rules that Trump so casually broke. They’ll bulk up environmental regulations, put teeth into Congressional oversight, make national candidates share their financials, reassert the Justice Department’s independence, and protect career civil servants, who, by the way, are not a “deep state” threat out to destroy us, but are professionals with a 240 year tradition of making the gears of government mesh. (We’ll talk conspiracy theories in this space soon.)
Without the threat of Trump’s Twitter account and his near-daily appearances on Fox News, the Republican Senate is likely to go along with these reforms. But they won’t even acknowledge President-elect Biden until Trump has been safely reinstalled at Mar-a-Lago.
We’re so deeply divided that a landslide was not in the cards. Evangelicals vote Republican regardless of the standard bearer, and this one was particularly good to them. Same with “law and order” voters. Fox News and Talk Radio—by ratings, the actual mainstream media—have spent decades demonizing liberals, and the Democrats in general, and patronizing white people who see Donald Trump as their last hope, for race is their oft-unspoken, but never absent from the conversation, crucible. Anyone who discounts the impact of race in this election, and American life in 2020, is simply not paying attention.
But a win is a win, particularly when the stakes are so high. As a tearful Van Jones said on CNN Saturday morning, “It’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to be a dad. It’s easier to tell your kids that character matters.”