The Day After: 5 big-picture takeaways from the 2020 Election

Thoughts on where we are, how we got here and where the data suggests we’re going.

It’s not going to be the landslide Democrats were hoping for, but Joe Biden is on track to win the Electoral College. Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

When I sit down to write a post, I’m usually reporting news that has usually already occurred. But as votes are still being counted, we’re still unsure when we’ll know who the next president will be. What we do know is that Biden appears to be up in Arizona, which would deal a huge blow to Donald Trump who needs to win the states he won in 2016 to secure reelection. As for Biden, he’ll be our next president if he wins Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania or Nevada and one state from the aforementioned trio. Instead of driving myself bonkers by following cable-news and digital-media updates, I decided to step back and interpret what we already know into five big-picture takeaways that can hopefully help you make sense of where we are, how we got here and where the data suggests we’re going.

1) I still think Joe Biden will win the election.

One of the reasons last night felt like such a letdown is because Biden supporters were led to believe Biden would perform better than he has in Texas, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. At press time, Trump has either won or is on track to win all five of those states.

And while it’s true the close margins and the fact that these states, some of which have been red since the ’90s, were in play to begin with is good news for Democrats in the long term, the Biden camp always had their sights set on rebuilding the Obama coalition that carried Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for Democrats in 2012. After all, it’s these three states that put Donald Trump in the White House four years ago. And here we are: Waiting for results in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Trump appealed to white working-class voters with a populist, anti-trade deal message — many of whom voted for Obama. This is why establishment Democrats were so high on Biden as the nominee: His blue-collar bona fides and association with the former president (who still maintains 68 percent positive opinion and is enormously popular among Millennials) were viewed as assets to neutralize Trump’s economic message.

Team Biden remained focused on this strategy even as they went on offense in states that expanded the map and opened up new paths to victory. And it’s likely it’s going to ultimately pay off. But if Biden ends up losing, it won’t be because they didn’t keep their eye on the prize.

2) But if Biden wins, Mitch McConnell is about to make the next four years hell for Democrats.

Biden is expected to hit the ground running if he captures the presidency. To show momentum, according to Mike Allen at Axios, Biden plans to quickly appoint senior staff appointments and "adopt what one confidant called ‘a healing tone’ and chart a new path forward against the coronavirus, which included cheerleading Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom Trump threatened to fire last Sunday. The former vice president also intended to sign several executive orders, with many designed to undo Trump actions and pass as much as possible under the banner of budget reconciliation, which requires just a simple majority.

The key to legislating this agenda was picking up the three or four seats required to flip the Senate. But at press time, Susan Collins is winning in Maine and beating her polling in large numbers. Thom Tillis is probably going to win reelection in North Carolina. The same goes for Joni Ernst in Iowa. And it seems unlikely that Democrats win one or both of the Georgia runoff Senate elections.

All of this is music to the ears of Mitch McConnell, the Republican senator from Kentucky who won reelection last night and is undoubtedly emboldened to double-down on the shenanigans he turned to during the Obama years to stunt any progressive policies.

“The Democrats’ anti-filibuster movement and its interest in expanding the Supreme Court and the Senate, or any other process reforms to maximize a new Democratic president’s power and influence, would be placed on pause,” Ryan Lizza wrote for Politico. “A President Biden’s agenda would be defined by his ability to win over the entire Senate Democratic caucus, from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin, and then as many as 10 Republicans. Ultimately, Biden would have to deal with McConnell, who would undoubtedly reprise the role he played in the Obama era when he had no incentive to help Obama rack up legislative achievements.”

Eric Levitz at Intelligencer agrees: “If I had to guess the ultimate outcome of this election, I’d say we’re in for a Democratic White House and a Republican Senate. Which would mean that, while Biden would get to be president, he probably wouldn’t get to pass major laws, appoint non-conservative judges, or staff his Cabinet without giving McConnell some input into his hiring choices.”

3) And the Democrats are likely to pay for the upcoming gridlock in 2022.

The blue wave Democrats enjoyed in the 2018 midterms was a larger landslide than 1994 or 2010: Despite losing seats in the Senate, Democrats picked up 38 seats in the House and their majority enabled them to block legislation that could only be passed with GOP votes and gave them subpoena power to aggressively investigate the executive branch — and ultimately impeach Trump.

The inverse could happen in 2022 if Biden pisses off his base by failing to implement any of his campaign promises or jumpstart the economy with meaningful stimulus. As Levitz wrote, “Biden would likely see his party further routed in 2022, as Republicans would enjoy the turnout advantage that almost always accrues to the president’s opposition in midterms.”

I agree with Levitz, who thinks this outlook could prevent Democrats from controlling all three branches of government or making any progress on universal health care, or a green-energy transition, or immigration reform, or voting rights, or child care, or any other major policy priority for the rest of the decade.

4) Trump voters see him as a proxy for white supremacy and patriarchy.

I think Donald Trump is a repulsive human and a disgrace to the office he holds. He’s an ignorant racist who lacks the ability to govern, foster alliances and tell the truth. But he is not an outlier or an aberration; in fact, a meaningful minority of the country want him to hold the highest office in the land once again. Even when given an alternative in Joe Biden — who is well-liked by more people than Hillary Clinton was and couldn’t be any more of the anti-Trump if he tried to be — a substantial share of the electorate said, Nah, gimme four more years of the other guy

White people love him because they benefit from the white supremacy his rhetoric and policies uphold without having to publicly align themselves with him. Non-white folks — especially Black and Hispanic men — love Trump due to his performance of masculinity. As Zak Cheney-Rice wrote for Intelligencer, “namely his assertiveness, his refusal to be apologetic, his flouting of health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, and his association with wealth, which in decades past has made him a pop-culture reference point from hip-hop to Gilmore Girls.”

Hopefully, last night marked the last time a political pundit, liberal elected official or well-meaning white person says that this is not who we are as Americans. “[It’s] incredible how competitive Trump is with [230,000-plus COVID-19] deaths and kids being locked in cages and everything else,” Vanity Fair special correspondent Gabriel Sherman tweeted. “Even if Biden wins he will have to govern in a Trump country. This is who America is.” From Arne Duncan, managing partner at Emerson Collective, social change organization focused on education, immigration reform, the environment, media and journalism, and health, and President Obama’s former education secretary: “We need to talk a lot less about red and blue. We need to talk a lot more about whiteness.” Drop the mic on ‘em, Arne.

5) The Democrats have work to do with young Black and brown voters.

Biden gained ground with white voters but lost support from Black voters and Latinos. But if you’re from one of these communities or were closely following the election, that’s probably unsurprising to you.

In May, Laura Barrón-López and Elena Schneider at Politico wrote about reported warnings from more than 20 Latino political operatives, lawmakers, and activists that saw little evidence from the Biden campaign that they were devoting the resources or hiring the staff required to turn out the largest nonwhite voting bloc in the country. "“I do not think that the Biden campaign thinks that Latinos are part of their path to victory,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, the former digital organizing director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said to Barrón-López and Schneider. “If you don’t think Latinos are part of your path to victory, then you do what they’re doing.” As with the Democratic primary, if Biden wins the White House it will be in spite of, not because of, his campaign’s engagement with Latinos.

Black folks — especially those in South Carolina who delivered the former veep a decisive primary victory — are the reason Biden made it to the general election in the first place. Yet, for most Black voters, this campaign was a referendum on Trump not an endorsement of Biden. I voted for the Biden-Harris ticket but was uninspired by the campaign’s core message that we were in a fight for the soul of our nation because it centered white people who were finally offended enough to pay attention to the issues that Black and brown voters have been sounding the alarms on for decades.

It’s no longer enough for Democrats to be Not Republicans or for Never Trumpers to produce slick YouTube ads and write scathing columns against what the GOP has now become. As I wrote this summer, “White supremacy is the original gaslight. It has convinced white people that their success is exclusively due to their talent, effort and achievement. A true meritocracy, however, requires that all its participants have equal access to a level playing field. American capitalism has displaced generations of Black people by redistributing economic resources from the have-nots to the haves and then deploying anti-democratic levers to maintain these distressing inequities.” 

It’s up to the party to make long-term investments in eliminating the disparities in housing, health care and education that we are expected to thrive in the face of. It’s time for Democrats to channel the emotional labor Black and brown folks spend to exist in this country into policies that messages that hold white people accountable for denying us access to the economic, social and political capital on the basis of our skin color. This is all but impossible with four more years of the Trump Administration. So, even with all my gripes against the party he leads, I hope by the next time I’m writing you that Biden has been declared as our next president.


FYI

If you’re looking for updates on the battleground states that have yet to be called or analysis on all the mayhem, I’ve been going here and here to stay informed.


Read All About It

Jay Connor at The Root on the LGBTQ+ candidates who will usher in a new era after big wins on Election Night:

While it might’ve been an anxiety-ridden election night for most of us, for the LGBTQ community it was a historic night of triumph. Throughout the country, gay, queer, trans and non-binary candidates racked up congressional win after congressional win, prevailing over years of discrimination in order to put Black excellence at the forefront.

David A. Graham at The Atlantic on the polling catastrophe:

This is a disaster for the polling industry and for media outlets and analysts that package and interpret the polls for public consumption, such as FiveThirtyEightThe New York Times’ Upshot,and The Economist’s election unit. They now face serious existential questions. But the greatest problem posed by the polling crisis is not in the presidential election, where the snapshots provided by polling are ultimately measured against an actual tally of votes: As the political cliché goes, the only poll that matters is on Election Day. The real catastrophe is that the failure of the polls leaves Americans with no reliable way to understand what we as a people think outside of elections—which in turn threatens our ability to make choices, or to cohere as a nation.

Gabriella Paiella at GQ on Steve Kornacki’s Election Week diet:

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed on election night—except for Steve Kornacki exhibiting superhuman energy on television. The NBC News and MSNBC national political correspondent will once again spend the evening in front of his “Big Board,” interpreting the results as numbers roll in from around the country in real time. The secret to his consistently intense delivery? Diet Coke. A lot of Diet Coke.

Sara Gorman, Ph.D., MPH and Jack M. Gorman, MD at Psychology Today on COVID-19 and “compassion fatigue”:

Most people do not know someone who has died from COVID-19 and therefore do not have stories immediately at hand that bring home the suffering the disease causes. Media sources usually refrain from showing us pictures and videos of people struggling to breathe or lying alone in ICU beds on respirators. And we don’t always get individual stories or images of the dead. Because of this, people may cope with the enormity of the pandemic by trying to find ways to minimize or even dismiss it. Saying that there are other diseases that cause more deaths than COVID-19 could be one such emotional mechanism.

Sara Radin at Bustle on the ethics of voting merch:

Against this backdrop, just saying “vote!” flattens key messages about what’s really at stake, while also avoiding calling out a specific candidate and their policies. It also doesn’t address major issues like voter suppression, which prevents countless individuals from voting, with people of color, the elderly, and people with disabilities disproportionately affected, according to the ACLU. Unlike political messages that were popular in fashion circa the 2016 election, including catchphrases like “The future is feminism” and “Nasty Woman”, “Vote” is up for interpretation. “Vote should be the minimum,” says MI Leggett, the designer behind fashion brand, Official Rebrand, who created “Fuck Trump” underwear.

Tamison O’Connor at Business of Fashion on how the “nap dress” went viral:

For most brands, 2020 has been a scramble to branch into “pandemic-proof” categories like sweatsuits. But lifestyle brand Hill House Home can’t make dresses fast enough. The company’s “nap” dress — a cross between a nightgown and a frock, comfortable enough to sleep in, but dressy enough for running errands — has become a pandemic sensation. Thousands of shoppers logged on last Wednesday at midday to snap up its latest drop, which reimagined signature silhouettes in tartan and brocade fabrics ahead of the holidays. Within five minutes, the brand sold $500,000 of inventory. Before half past, sales hit the $1 million mark.


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