Finally, something good happened in 2020.
Yesterday morning the news services called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, putting him over 270 electoral votes and settling the election after four days of counting and waiting.
As much as I’d like to write some deep insightful analysis of the election and what it means going forward, I need more time to think… and to see how things play out between now and January 20. Instead, I’m going to offer my initial thoughts and observations. Make of them what you will.
1. A great sigh of relief
I don’t know what the Biden victory means for the United States. I do know what it means to me: relief.
I am so tired of Trump. I’m tired of the lies and the denial of reality about Covid and climate change. I’m tired of a refugee policy that’s designed to be cruel. I’m tired of policy decisions that change depending on his mood. I’m tired of waking up every morning and hearing what ridiculous thing he’s said or done overnight.
I’m tired of government by Twitter.
Whatever else he has done, for good or for ill (mostly for ill), Donald Trump has been bad for my mental health. And now he has a firm expiration date: January 20, 2021.
And I am relieved.
2. There are many people to thank
Thank you to everyone who voted for Biden, who worked for his campaign, who made contributions of time and money. Everyone who helped made a difference.
In his speech last night, Biden thanked the African-American community, which resuscitated his campaign in the primary and delivered again in the general election. Thank you!
I’d like to offer my thanks to everyone who supported Bernie Sanders or another candidate in the primary and who wasn’t thrilled with the nomination of Joe Biden, but who voted for him anyway. Politics is the art of the possible, of the compromise, of the next best thing. We’ll never know if Bernie would have won more easily or not at all. What matters most is that Donald Trump will no longer be President.
3. What happens now
The news media is not the final arbiter of elections. Just because the Associated Press and Fox News have called the election for Biden doesn’t mean he wins. What it means is that given the current vote count and the number of votes left uncounted, the news agencies see no way the results can change. It’s not politics, it’s math.
The counting will continue until all the votes are counted. There will likely be a recount in Georgia and in Wisconsin, but recounts rarely change results. In any case, Biden doesn’t need Georgia and he doesn’t need Wisconsin if he holds Arizona, which he will.
Trump will continue filing lawsuits, but lawsuits require evidence, and he has none. I do not expect the Supreme Court to get involved. The results will stand.
After the counts and recounts are completed, each state will certify their results. On December 14, electors for the party of the winner of each state will meet in their state capitals, record their votes, and send them to Washington (and to other places). On January 6, Congress will open them in a joint session of the House and Senate and vote to confirm the election.
There are several possibilities for overturning state election results. But no one other than Trump and his sycophants are suggesting them, because there is zero evidence this is anything other than a very close election. Further, they would have to overturn multiple state results, not just one. That’s not going to happen.
That means all of these are formalities. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States at noon EST on January 20, 2021.
4. What happened with the polls?
As with 2016, we went into election day thinking the Democrat would win an easy victory, only to discover otherwise.
538 had Biden up 8 points with an 89% chance of victory. He’s going to win by
less than 3 points 4.5 points. Normal polling error is considered to be plus or minus 3% – this is a 5% 3.5% error. They made changes after 2016 and did a fairly decent job with the 2018 midterm elections. But they were off this year.
Let’s keep in mind that this election was extremely close. If the current results hold with Biden winning Georgia and Trump winning North Carolina, 538 will have called every state correctly except for Florida, North Carolina, and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. That’s pretty good.
And remember that if it wasn’t for the undemocratic Electoral College, all anyone would remember was that Biden was supposed to win and he did win.
Still, the polling groups are going to have to rethink how they conduct their surveys, because they need to be better than they are.
5. Why was it so close?
If it wasn’t for the expansion of mail-in ballots and the arcane rules about when they can be counted (why not start processing them as soon as you get them?) this would have been over a long time ago and the election wouldn’t seem as close as it did.
Still, the Democrats lost seats in the House (though they still control it) and they failed to flip the Senate (more on that later).
Countless dollars and hours will be spent over the coming months trying to figure out what went wrong and what can be done better next time. I tend to agree with this Twitter thread from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sometimes it’s less about who has the big ideas and likeable candidates and more about who works harder and smarter. She blames most losses on
- Poor digital execution
- Abandoning door knocking.
I understand stopping door knocking in a pandemic. But the Republicans didn’t, and you can’t fight with one hand tied behind your back.
The moderates and the liberals are already blaming each other. I’m not ready to take a side, and I suspect the truth is more complicated and that it varies from place to place.
I’ll be paying attention to analysis in the coming weeks and months. Democrats must do better or they’ll lose Congress in 2022.
6. Record turnout on both sides
Many of us – including me – said the problem last time was the people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 who stayed home for Hillary in 2016. That wasn’t the problem this time.
In 2016 Hillary got 65.9 million votes and Trump got 62.9 million. In 2020 Biden got
74.5 80.2 million votes and Trump got 70.3 74.2 million. That’s an increase of 16 21 million votes over four years. Trump got more votes than any other Presidential candidate in history… except for Joe Biden.
Whatever the problem was, “getting people excited” wasn’t it.
7. The Senate isn’t decided yet
Republicans currently have 48 Senate seats and Alaska is a foregone conclusion. They are highly likely to win in North Carolina – that gives them 50.
Both of Georgia’s Senate seats will go to a runoff election on January 5. I feel for my friends in Georgia – the whole country is going to be watching them for the next two months.
If the Republicans win one of Georgia’s seats, then Mitch McConnell remains Majority Leader and can block pretty much anything Biden wants to do – like he did with Obama. If the Democrats win both of them, the Senate will be 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris (I love typing that!) will break ties.
8. I want Stacey Abrams to run the DNC
Stacey Abrams lost the Georgia governor’s race in 2018 at least in part because of a purge of voter registration rolls by her opponent. She could have run for Senate this year, but instead focused on voter registration and turnout.
She was successful. If the current count holds, Biden will be the first Democrat to carry Georgia since Bill Clinton’s first run in 1992.
Abrams doesn’t get all the credit – she retweeted this from Fair Fight Action thanking other mostly-Black groups and individuals. But she deserves plenty.
What Abrams and others did worked. I want to see it extended to the rest of the country.
9. Assessing the damage from the last four years
We probably don’t know just how much damage Trump has done. I am grateful for all the Civil Service employees who mostly kept things running under Trump’s deliberate mismanagement. But there is much repair work to be done, particularly in the State Department.
The courts are lost to progressives for at least a decade and maybe two. In addition to putting three conservatives on the Supreme Court, Trump has filled over 200 (out of about 800) slots in the lower courts – mainly because McConnell refused to confirm Obama’s appointments once he became Majority Leader. And with at best a 50-50 Senate, court reform is virtually impossible.
The first priority has to be getting Covid-19 under control. Thankfully, come January we will have a President who respects science and listens to the experts.
10. I’m not in the mood to be bipartisan
I’ve been criticized for being too easy on Trump supporters. I know some of them had what seemed like good reasons for voting for him in 2016. But I cannot excuse those who voted for him in 2020. They saw what he is and how he governs on a daily basis and they voted for him anyway. Many of them voted for him because he gives them permission to be bigots.
Joe Biden is saying the right things about being the President of all Americans – it will be good to have a President who actually believes that. I agree we should go back to being civil with our political opponents, but you can be polite and firm at the same time.
The days of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan being buddies are gone. I want Biden, Harris, Pelosi, and all the other Democrats to be absolutely as ruthless as Trump and Mitch McConnell have been over the last four years. They don’t have the kind of supermajority needed to run over them, but they have the Presidency, the House, and maybe the Senate. They need to use it.
We have to play under Trump and McConnell’s scorched-earth rules until we can undo Trump and McConnell’s scorched-earth damage.
11. Trump is still President for 73 more days
I don’t worry about nightmare scenarios. People who want to continue their political and/or government service careers are not going to follow illegal orders from a lame duck President.
But Trump and McConnell will make sure every judicial position is filled with a radical conservative. Biden will have to wait on deaths and retirements to start appointing judges.
McConnell has promised to take up a Covid relief package now that he’s got Handmaid Amy on the Supreme Court, but we’ll see if he does, and if he does if Trump will sign it… or if he’ll veto it out of spite.
All outgoing Presidents issue pardons in their final days and many of them are controversial. Expect Trump to break records for pardoning his friends and allies… mainly because so many of his friends and allies have been convicted of crimes.
And beyond that, who knows? This is a man who’s not used to being told “no.” This much is sure – it won’t be pretty.
12. We can stop obsessing – we can’t stop engaging
I’m unhappy with the amount of time I’ve spent writing and thinking about politics over the past year… really over the past four years.
What choice did I have?
It’s called “self-government” for a reason – democracy only works when citizens are engaged. When we outsource government to others, we end up with elected leaders who do not share our values.
Biden can’t clean up all of Trump’s mess in his first hundred days, much less deliver the progressive agenda many of us want. But it’s on us to hold him accountable for doing what he can do.
13. Redeeming the soul of America
If there was any doubt, this election showed that the soul of America is rotten.
I’m a Pagan – we aren’t big on redemption. But there is a cultural problem in America, and those of us who are involved with religion, philosophy, and spirituality have an obligation to articulate and demonstrate a better way.
Sometimes we have to resist and fight, as we’ve done over the past four years. Other times we have to work on subtly changing hearts and minds, one at a time.
I’m thankful I have the opportunity to try.