I was 18 when Barack Obama won in 2009, and it felt like a breath of fresh air after eight years of George W. Bush. I had never voted yet at that point in my life, and as a Canadian I still can’t, but Bush’s time as president felt exhausting, even from afar: I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing the word “gaffe” ever again. 9/11 felt like the beginning of the end of the US. By virtue of comparison, Barack Obama felt like a savior, and while his presidency was indeed better than Trump’s — electing a bag of hair with a Twizzler for a mouth would’ve been better than Trump — it still wasn’t enough for America to feel like a better, more equitable place. Was it better for you? Did it create a better world for all of us? Was it enough?
Well, we know the answer: It was the last four years. Expecting one politician to right the ship is an impossible task, and so Biden winning the presidency this week isn’t really the end. It was a seemingly endless election, a tight race, and ultimately historic, with Biden nabbing more than 75 million votes (a record, as he’s now received the most votes for any presidential candidate ever) and with Kamala Harris now the first Black and Indian-American woman as the vice president. Voter turnout is on pace to break records, projected to be just higher than 66%. Trump joins the underwhelming ranks of other one-term presidents, our modern-day Herbert Hoover.
Still, it’s just the beginning of a long fight, and with Senate control likely determined by runoffs, a painful one. This win is just a clarion call that we all have another chance to fix this country before it decays for good.
No nation slips into fascism comfortably, but for the US, it came through complacency. Plenty of voters — and ultimately, nonvoters — were comfortable for so long! Many had good jobs and enjoyed their families and didn’t worry too much about daily, unrelenting chaos. We could hug our moms inside an Applebee’s! But it was that complacency that gave us Trump, which was borne out of the same kind of self-satisfaction that made some mop their brows when Obama was elected and think, Good, I never have to worry about racism again.
The same way many view the pandemic as an avoidable crisis, so too should we view the election of Donald Trump in 2016. If certain white people had voted, instead of assuming the election was in the bag for Hillary Clinton, we might not have had to live through the last four years of chaos. (How many times can I scream into my mirror, “TRUMP WON WISCONSIN ONLY BY 22,700 VOTES,” while it cracks at the sight of my own reflection?) White women, who were perhaps initially convinced that a Trump presidency would never affect their comfort until they weren’t able to eat inside a Panera Bread for the last eight months, could have stopped this four years ago. And apparently, based on early exit polls, they didn’t try very hard to stop it this time either.
Biden’s win, I’m sure, will signal to a lot of people that there’s a real changing of the guard in the US. That choosing someone other than Trump means that the country is repenting for the sins of the last four years. It’s a relief for a lot of people, but namely people who are fed up with the cruelty being the point. The week before the election, “anxious” and “nervous” were trending on Twitter, a beautiful encapsulation of our countrywide hell. Or, really, our international hell — there are very few countries left unaffected by Trump’s four years of presidential turmoil. The day of the election felt bleak too, as most mail-in ballots hadn’t yet been counted. But slowly, as the week unfolded, it seemed more and more likely that Biden would clinch the extremely tight race, and we could dream of a future of forgetting the names of Trump’s children.
It’s good news for anyone hoping for a more progressive country — eventually — but Biden’s win is just the first step in an incredibly long list of actions the country needs to commit to in order to gravitate toward actually being “great.”
His victory felt inevitable — at least to me, a noncitizen who’s only been here for two years, who can’t vote, and who generally has kept their head down waiting for a green card to come in. The chaos of the Trump administration had, in the last year in particular, become fatal. Biden was a perfect adversary for Trump because he’s downright forgettable, the generic Barbie of presidential candidates. His policies, which seem to boil down to “fracking 🌈,” appease neither young, democratic socialists, who are a big part of the party’s future, nor Trump’s most vehement conservative base — McCains notwithstanding.
But the mediocre middle is where Biden thrives best, and that’s how he won. The energy around this Biden victory has largely been about voting Trump out rather than excitement about voting Biden in. He was palatable enough for those made squeamish by Trump’s bombastic form of racism but also too spooked by the words “democratic socialism” to demand a better option. (Speaking as a Canadian, democratic socialism is mostly fine. You have to wait a few extra days for blood work, which is kind of a bummer, but you never get a phone call from a lab that, surprise, you owe them $900 because of something called “a deductible.” And much like Fahrenheit and the spelling of “neighbour,” the definition of a deductible is among the things I am not interested in learning about this country.) Biden is a placeholder president. His legacy will likely forever be marked by the enormous mess he now has to clean up.
In 2016, voter suppression disproportionately affected Black voters, and these suppression tactics impacted the 2020 election too. Even once ballots were being counted, there were still hoards of people demanding that officials stop counting, lest Trump lose for good. But some people just didn’t vote in 2016, with 45% of adults in the US not casting a vote. This year, they did: NBC reported that 20% of the early votes across the country came from voters who did not or could not vote in the last election. Maybe some people just assumed everything would work itself out. (But maybe not like this?)
Biden’s win is just the first step in an incredibly long list of things this country needs to do in order to be anywhere close to actually being “great.”
The 2020 election is indicative of nothing other than the fact that Americans are fed up. Biden is victorious because Trump is so unrelenting and so needy for attention that he grabbed headlines wherever he could — that oversaturation stopped working though, and his television ratings started to dive near the end of his presidency. Perhaps that’s why, despite a pandemic which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, he insisted on having in-person rallies, where he left supporters out in the freezing cold and, according to a Stanford study, spread the virus to tens of thousands more people, potentially killing 700.
This was the year all Americans were adversely affected by Trump’s colossal failures — not just immigrants and trans people and the working class. There was, maybe, finally some acknowledgment that if you wanted to stop talking about the coronavirus (boring) or about the president (stressful), or more recently, if you just want to go outside again and touch a stranger without resolute fear, it was vital to remove Trump from office.
But that doesn’t mean this country is cured of any of its ills or evils. The parents of 545 children separated at the border still cannot be located or reunited. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed by the Supreme Court — which is now a 6–3 conservative court because Lindsey Graham couldn’t be bothered to keep his otherwise useless word — millions of Americans could potentially lose their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. The white supremacist groups that sprang out of Charlottesville in 2017 still live in this country and still have plans, even post-Trump. Abortion is likely to become a lot less accessible for certain women in certain states, not that it was ever all that accessible to begin with. Fox News, an outlet that helped promote completely baseless conspiracy theories, will still exist, and will still flourish, as the network did during Obama’s presidency. Whether or not they turn away from Trump. The Electoral College is still out of line with the popular vote, and it continues to be easier to vote as a white woman in space than a Black woman with both of her feet firmly planted on this earth. And even after four years of all this disorder, there were still more than 70 million people willing to cast a ballot for four more years of President Trump. That’s around 7 million more people than in 2016.
Despite the results of this election, there’s still a pandemic that is killing literally hundreds of people per day, the police are still disproportionately killing Black and brown people, and unemployment during the first three months of COVID-19 was higher than the first two years of the Great Depression. My breath gets stuck in my throat every time I hear about someone dying from the coronavirus, often horrifically from a pulmonary embolism — the kinds of deaths that the soon-to-be-former president has been desperate to ignore. When a COVID-19 vaccine does eventually become available, there will be a significant swath of the country that will not take it, either because they don’t trust anything not sanctioned by Trump, or because they think any vaccine will give their children autism. There are still fights around the country for the police to be defunded, and for that money to be redistributed in the community, but there are still Black people arguing for their right to humanity. Last week, Kevin E. Peterson, a 21-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police in Washington state. He was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew he was running.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m relieved by the coming change too, whatever it may be. Two weeks ago, my father called me from Canada and asked what I and other writers might talk about without a Trump in office. “Anything else,” I told him. “Everything else. Whatever we wanted. All the other things we’ve had to ignore because there’s a fire starting every day, and we’re too busy throwing buckets of water on it to deal with the fact that there are termites in the load-bearing walls and mold in the floors.” He didn’t believe me — he seems to think dissatisfaction starts and ends with Donald Trump’s term in office.
The 2020 election is indicative of nothing other than the fact that Americans are fed up.
But there’s just so much work left to do — after all, Georgia didn’t really turn blue overnight. Racism wasn’t born out of Trump; it just became louder and uglier than had been socially acceptable in the last few years. He said the quiet parts loud — and then others in the GOP followed suit because finally, they felt safe to do so. Trump wasn’t the reason why immigrants, both documented and otherwise are suddenly afraid, he just profited off the long-established xenophobia around foreigners entering this country and ruining it. Trump gave his accomplices a reason to no longer hide in the shadows, but now that he’s out of office, they’re still lurking. Roger Stone is still pardoned. Miles Taylor can write all the anonymous New York Times op-eds he wants; he still helped shape the immigration policy that has left hundreds of families broken. There’s nothing comforting about the countless Americans who waited hours and hours in line, during a pandemic, to make absolutely sure that their vote would be counted because throughout this election there was always doubt. Every daily crisis of the last four years has been so cataclysmic and distracting that we’ve barely addressed climate change (a problem from long before Trump’s time as our leader). Who has the time?
And after all this, you still can’t hug your mom, because you don’t want to kill her.
The people who helped Trump spread his vision of a dystopian future will continue to thrive in the Republican party, and will likely come back again and again to haunt us later. Senate Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham were both reelected by sizable margins. The election was hardly a repudiation of Trump and his four years in office; he just happened to have lost this time around. The US is far from cured just because Trump is soon to be out of office; there’s still a question of how we even let this happen. The ugly truth is there are enough people in this country who think poor people should suffer, that you should lose your house if you have to pay for your own chemotherapy, that the police should be given free rein over citizens, for a Trumpian nightmare to happen again. If living in the US felt like living in a failed state for the last four years, that’s because it is. But there’s always time to fix it.
Look — take a few days. You’ve earned it. Dream of a future where you can feel full, unbridled relief, where you can trust your leaders to do what you ask of them, where you can be moderately furious in the failure of your government instead of perpetually terrified of how its policies will impact you.
Relish in your relief! But not too much time. Because for many of us, the work has to continue because we’re lucky enough to do it. Because taking two days, two weeks, a few months, a couple of years off from hypervigilance is what got us into a place where this election didn’t just feel like an election, it felt like a choice between a final death or a resurrection. Eons of complacency got us to a place of nightly protests, white people trying to brunch on sidewalks but feeling guilty — as you should — while people gathered in the tens of thousands to demand the end of violence against Black trans people in America.
Trump wasn’t an aberration. He was the cause, the product, the purpose. It can happen twice; all we have to do is let it. ●