72 392 313 Post-Election Questions

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 13.11.2020

…One for each American voter who shaded the bubble next to the incumbent president, little knowing (and certainly little caring) that, in doing so, they also shaded something else: my sense of what kind of planet, and particularly what kind of United States of America, we in this dimension of existentiality are really dealing with.

“Why?”

Four years ago, the electoral upset pulled off by an occasionally televised orange-hued grabber of genitalia (and his brain-scrubbed wooden boy running mate) threw me into a state of tenuous uncertainty, even crisis, about what the USA actually was. Hang on, I thought. Was this really possible? Was this happening in the same pleasant country where I had grown up? Many other Americans no doubt felt the same. Clinton herself famously took to the woods after her spectacular loss and, frankly, I would have done the same. You could sooner speak the language of trees than see logic in the electoral will.

Eventually, we did weather the 2016 election, as one passes through a magical mist whose properties bend all psychology into strange and otherworldly colors, and after doing so we naturally started to assess what had happened. We found explanations. Good ones. The Clintonian aesthetic had failed to galvanize the public, for one thing. Sexism was alive and show-stoppingly well, for another. And massively blue-leaning polls had convinced Democrat would-be voters that Trump was no real threat. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. In that sad context, we reasoned, a bizarre minority of trolls had swiped the White House from the only serious people seeking it, a one-off victory for a fluky non-movement of anachronistic bozos who had seen and seized this as an opportunity for racism’s last big hurrah. Their win, we went on, must have been buttressed by voters who didn’t believe that the man was as bad as he insisted he was, or as stupid as he clearly behaved; folks who voted for him as a laugh, as a protest, or simply out of a habit of Republicanism (even if Trump was never recognizably platformed as such).

For several days last week, Biden held the lead by a head-explodingly thin margin, a few thousand votes in Pennsylvania and what the New York Times wouldn’t stop describing as “<0.1” in Georgia, the (partial) results of a glacially paced tallying process that all but stopped my blood from circulating. On Saturday, Biden finally eked out his win. Thank goodness for that. But the 2020 election still represents a real blow to the country, by which I mean the fact that it was even close. That seventy+ million people voted against the Paris Agreement, against human rights, against healthcare for themselves and others. Against, really, the concept of government altogether.

More than seventy million! That’s no fluke. And this time, each of you knew what Trump was. None of you has the excuses we invented for you back in 2016. So, I want to know: why?

Is it that the American political conversation is so eroded that elections amount to red versus blue? I don’t mean the parties those colors represent. I mean, nearly literally, the colors. That you are born into a community that is red, and every four years you send a champion to the capital to duke it out with your sworn enemy, blue? Sports fans never change allegiances. Ever. You cheer for the jersey, not the individual player.

Or is the divorce from ideology even more profound? Is Trumpism more accurately a state of repulsion at the Democrats’ condescending tone, a state of feeling attacked simply for not being an urbanite who is experientially conversant in racial diversity and internationality? If so, this emotion is abnormally razored. I mean, nobody likes being talked down to, but being so butthurt about it as to vote for the side that sterilizes detainees at the border?

Or maybe I have become a hopelessly Europeanized leftist, seduced by that dirtiest of words, socialism? True, I support Luxembourg’s organized and caring government. True, I’m underwhelmed by Joe Biden and his centrism. Maybe my finger is nowhere near the American pulse. Maybe all those Trump votes were cast in an honest ideological fight against the pants-wettingly scary “big government” espoused by Biden.

Or is it Trump’s actual record and values? Do nearly half of voters straightforwardly agree that black lives don’t matter, that nonwhite immigrants (children included) pose a lethal threat, that our planet isn’t worth a damn? One must assume that not every right-winger is duped by eroded politics or coerced by sulky emotions or skewed by my Euro-bias. Of the seventy+ million, surely a quiet majority are coolheaded and cognizant. Did you think that, given how malleable the business sector found the rudderless Trump administration, some sort of fairytale trickle-down economic boom at the hands of unchecked billionaires was worth a regime of chaos, hate, destruction?

I tried not to expect a Biden blowout. Really, I tried to be cynical. But deep down I couldn’t help it. I never imagined so many Trump votes, not after these four years of nonsense. A narrow Biden win stops the bleeding, and I’m happy about it, but this election has shown that neither party is coherent anymore and that makes me worry for the American future. Biden is a non-Trump, Trump is a non-anything, yet both the parties rallied like crazy for their candidate, smashing turnout records going back a century. Biden votes were largely protest votes; that much is clear. But for the other seventy+ million who participated… what do you want?

Jeffrey Palms
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