Coming Out of the Ashes

After Election 2020, it’s not right, but it’s OK


Illustration by Jason Stout / Getty Images

As of this writing, if every state's current results hold up as the counting continues, Joe Biden will have exactly the 270 electoral votes needed to be the 46th president of the United States. (Michigan has just been called in his favor, following Wisconsin earlier in the day; this presumes Arizona and Nevada also remain in his column. Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina are currently in Donald Trump's hands but also still uncalled.)

Even though we had all been prepared for this eventuality, it still feels like the worst possible outcome. Biden will barely eke out an Electoral College victory despite having won more than 70 million votes, the most in U.S. history and at least 3 million more than the incumbent. Democrats are nowhere near taking control of the U.S. Senate, and thus nowhere near undoing the damage wrought by Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court. Texas' blue wave evaporated, and while Republicans did not gain any more power here in the Great State, one does not expect they will be chastened by a better-than-ever but still-not-good-enough Democratic performance.

But as frustrated, pained, and horrified as we all may be at these facts, we do realize that it's better than the alternative. Trump is currently demanding that his followers and allies stage a coup to return him to power, which is yet another bridge we thought we wouldn't need to cross, but everyone knows that's what he's trying to do, so it's not resonating very well as a projection of strength. Once again, we are right to be disgusted, but we are not required to be fearful. It's not right, but we guess it's OK.

As cathartic as the last four years have been, it's not unimportant that the Most Important Election of Our Lives™ has basically delivered us back where we started at the end of the Obama years, or in Texas' case, on the day after the 2018 election. That was not such a great place to be for many marginalized, vulnerable, and disempowered Americans and Texans. But things did not get a whole lot worse just in the last week. You may see this election as America dodging a bullet, or you may see it as revealing just what this nation has always been, or both. But those are realities that we can (and indeed must) work with as a starting point as we arise from these ashes.

Having said that, we've certainly learned in the last 72 hours some things we didn't know, things we'll be puzzling and pondering over for a while to come. We've learned that one of the truisms of the anticipated Texas progressive renaissance – "Texas is not a red state; it's a nonvoting state" – is not true. More Texans voted than ever before, but a lot of them voted for Republicans, even though demography would have suggested otherwise. We've learned that polling is broken, perhaps for good, as the information ecosystem within which people practice politics is fundamentally different from what it used to be.

And we learned, all over the country, that people who cast their ballots for Trump and the GOP and owning-the-libs also support a wide variety of progressive policies, from drug legalization to Medicaid expansion to a $15 minimum wage. That may even be the case here in already progressive Travis County, where at least some of the folks who supported Propositions A and B – the mobility measures that were the focus of highly partisanized campaigns – likely voted for Republicans elsewhere on the ballot.

The future will be here soon enough: the 87th Texas Legislature, a prospective Biden/Harris administration, and, before we know it, 2024, when Trump might try to pull a Grover Cleveland. To create the world we want to live in and the changes we seek may require more focus on nonelectoral means of practicing politics, and more assertive defenses of our rights against those who would disrespect them. But we can do that if we have to, as we nurture our little seedling of hope out of the ashes.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

2020 Election, November 2020 Election, Proposition A, Proposition B, Donald Trump, John Biden

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