Whatever happens over the next days and weeks, as absentee and mail-in ballots are tallied, as the inevitable judicial recounts begin and, just as inevitably, they are challenged in lawsuits and blocked – and unblocked – by the courts the fact that, after the last four years, almost half of all Americans voted for Donald Trump says a great deal about this country. After the deaths of 230,000 Americans due to Washington’s criminal negligence in the handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, after revelations of the horrors of the concentration camps on our borders, after a relentless, unconstrained scourge of summary executions of African Americans and the deployment of military force and secret police to silence legitimate protests that flared in righteous anger, there can be no mistake: This is the America that half of all Americans want.
As I write, all leading American and international news sites (including Fox News and RT) show that Joe Biden has a slim Electoral College lead over Donald Trump, with Wisconsin and Michigan leaning very slightly blue. Due to early and mail-in voting, many votes have yet to be counted, and there is certainly reason to cautiously hope that President Trump will lose the election, albeit by the slimmest Electoral College margin, and that the United States will win a four-year reprieve.
Should that be the case – and I dearly hope that it is – there will remain much to worry about. The president has already declared victory and falsely claimed that there has been widespread voter fraud. That much was to be expected, of course, but even in the absence of a much-feared “red mirage” that showed President Trump clearly ahead on election night, there can be little doubt that the Republican Party and its partisans will fight tooth and nail to challenge every vote so aggressively that we will look back fondly on the relative certainty of the 2000 election. The next weeks are going to be agonizing.
We should be so lucky, my Zeide might have said, if that was all we had to worry about. As we hold our collective breaths and obsessively pick through the details and numbers, and watch states on the map turn from powder blue to dusty rose and back again in a ballet of uncertainty, pondering the plays like so many Monday morning quarterbacks, we need to step back and take a moment. Thinking about this election, and American politics generally, solely in terms of plays and strategies vastly misses the point of what happened last night. That we – leftists, progressives, liberals – do this compulsively after every election is one of the reasons why Magaism, that roiling mass movement around President Trump, might well win in the long run – even if this election goes to Biden. Recall that the Republican Party did this kind of postgame navel gazing after losing the 2012 election. Yet then the GOP tore up its own playbook, embraced Donald Trump (albeit with some initial reservations) and surfed the MAGA wave to victory.
The lesson there is that we are not facing a a conventional political party in an otherwise stable electoral system, with policies and strategies, but ideology, a mass movement, and a social revolution. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better.
It is shocking that almost half of all Americans voted for President Trump, essentially ratifying the horrors of the last four years. But perhaps it should not have been surprising. As my friend John, a teacher in Cleveland – a dark blue dot in a red state – observed last night, “no matter what the media says, the majority of White America is supporting Donald Trump and his racism.” Indeed, in one of its last surveys before the election, Pew Research found that, alone among any other demographic, a majority of white Americans – 51 percent – support the president. Considering that whites account for some 75 percent of the total population, and the solid 37-40 percent of voters who have steadfastly approved of the country President Trump has created since Inauguration Day starts to make a lot of sense.
One might object that this 37-40 percent of Magaist true believers cannot account for the president’s capture of almost half of the popular vote, particularly given this election’s unprecedented turnout. Many Trump supporters are not true believers, the reasoning goes, or hardcore Magaist cadres who have embraced an ideology in which the “American carnage” of the last four years is a desirable goal. They are “a la carte” voters, single-issue voters, who made their decisions on the narrowest possible grounds. Yet, they nevertheless went along. It is a sobering thought that, at its peak in 1945, only 10 percent of Germans were members of the Nazi Party, and less than 2.5 percent when it assumed power in 1933. Fewer still were brownshirts. Yet, in 1934 44 percent of Germans cast votes for the Nazis and, even more ominously, 90 percent approved Hitler’s assumption of absolute power in a referendum the following year.
A revolutionary mass movement does not need a majority, or even a near-majority to obtain the power to transform society in its ideological image, even in a putative constitutional democracy. It only needs to get enough people, whatever their beliefs or pet-issues, to go along with it. Its ideology just has to make a certain amount of sense to those people who are not fully committed.
The truly disturbing revelation of last night is that, even if they had not fully approved of President Trump’s performance as president – a significant majority of Americans do not – even if they do not actively desire the America he has created, half of all Americans voted for him. They know about the caged children, the corruption, the deaths, the privation, and they find it all both tolerable and preferable to any alternative. Even if we do get a new president out of all of this, neither they, nor the Magaist brownshirts, are just going to go away.
One hundred and sixty-two years ago, as blood stained the Kansas prairie, Abraham Lincoln declared that “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” that it must become “all one thing or all the other,” or collapse. The Illinois Senate candidate, country lawyer, and former congressman was confident that his country would not fall. The “Secession Winter” that followed his election as president in 1860 proved Lincoln wrong. It is well that we learn from his mistake; we have a long fight ahead.