The 2020 election is almost over; it will end when Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20th. The election process took 19 months: beginning with the first Democratic debate and ending with the November 3rd election, January 6th counting of the electoral votes, and the inauguration. We all have good reason to feel drained.
There were emotional peaks and valleys. After the polls closed, on November 3rd, there was an awful moment when we thought Trump might win. Then we worried that Trump might find a way to steal the election; that he would force a coup. We held on to a slim hope that we would regain control of the Senate by winning two Georgia run-off races; improbably, on January 5th we won both seats.
Now we have to set to work rebuilding the country. But before we do this, we need to consider what we have learned from this process.
1.Democrats can win anywhere. Biden won Arizona and Georgia; two states that had previously been considered “red.” Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Arizona and two (!) seats in Georgia.
2020 proved that the political battlefield is expanding; the number of reliably red states is shrinking. This means that Democrats can win any election if they have a strong candidate and effective local organizing. (Dems have proven they have the money to compete in any venue.) What remains to be done is for Democrats to replicate in every state the effective organization that Stacey Abrams built in Georgia.
2. Trump voters have a different worldview. Sadly, during the 2020 presidential election, we have also learned that many Republicans — particularly those that idolized Donald Trump — have a vastly different perspective than do Biden supporters. (We must never forget that 74 million Americans voted for Trump — 46.9 percent of the participants.)
Of course, not every Trump voter continues to support Trump — given recent events, such as the January 6th Capitol Hill riot. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that a majority of Republicans support Trump. In the 2020 presidential election exit polls, 36 percent of respondents identified as Republicans — versus 37 percent as Democrats and 26 percent as Independents. 95 percent of these Republicans voted for Trump; one-third of voters. Assuming that Trump’s behavior, since November 3rd, has driven away some of this base, this means that between 25 and 30 percent of the electorate now support him — approximately 40 million voters.
It’s impossible to predict what Trump will do and, therefore, difficult to plot the course of the Republican Party. At this moment, the GOP seems to have divided into two warring factions: the Trump devotees and Republicans who have entered “recovery.” (On January 6th, 147 Trump-supporting members of Congress voted to overturn the results of the election (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/07/us/elections/electoral-college-biden-objectors.html).)
Going forward there are three mammoth tasks confronting the Biden-Harris administration: managing the Covid-19 pandemic, rebuilding the U.S. economy, and responding to climate change. For each of these, the Biden-Harris administration is going to need the cooperation of Republicans, including some Trump supporters.
a. Covid-19 pandemic: At this writing, the United States has more than 22 million Coronavirus cases. In contrast to Donald Trump, Joe Biden has promised to take the pandemic seriously: we can expect that he will emphasize mask use and demand funds for testing and vaccinations. Most Americans will support these efforts, but Trump supporters will resist. Too many do not take the pandemic seriously and, therefore, resist calls to wear a mask and socially distance — witness the Trump mob that stormed Capitol Hill; most of whom did not wear masks or socially distance. (On Planet Trump, Coronavirus is a myth.)
Given the level of resistance of Trump supporters, it’s hard to imagine how a Biden-Harris initiative to ameliorate the pandemic will produce quick results.
b. Economic Recovery: The Biden-Harris team will attempt to restore the economy in two phases: first, provide assistance for individuals and businesses that have been damaged by the pandemic; and second, begin to address the more general issue of economic inequity — for example, by raising the minimum wage and forgiving student-loan debt.
Many Republicans, and Trump supporters, will be supportive of these efforts.
c. Climate Change: The 2020 presidential-election exit polls indicate that there’s a significant gap between the climate-change attitudes of Democrats and Republicans. 69 percent of Biden voters believe that “climate change is a serious problem” while 71 percent of Trump voters disagree. It’s a situation similar to that on the pandemic: a strong majority of Biden supporters take the problem seriously and a similar majority of Trump supporters do not.
This is a particularly vexing situation because, once the pandemic is ameliorated, the United States needs to mobilize to deal with climate change. We need to go to war to save the planet, but many Trump supporters won’t join this mobilization.
The bottom line is that the Biden-Harris team will govern a broken country; a fragile democracy that has just barely survived the reign of Donald Trump. We’ve entered a new era but we all have much more work to do.