Fans of democracy everywhere have much to celebrate from this year’s U.S. elections, though many don’t feel that way right now.
Not only has Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden ultimately clinched a much more substantive win that seemed apparent on election night, bringing enormous relief to anybody — progressive, liberal or conservative — who cares about facts, science, the rule of law, institutions and the fundamental dignity of all human beings.
Several datapoints also suggest that American democracy may be, if not entirely healthy, in better conditions that we gave it credit for, and U.S. voters still intensely invested in the electoral process, albeit deeply polarized.
Historic turnout: Close to 160 million Americans are estimated to have voted Nov. 3, and by mail for several weeks before that. That’s more than 66 percent of all eligible voters and a level of political participation unseen in this country in a century. Both Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump won more votes than any other presidential candidate in U.S. history. That should have any representative democracy enthusiast rejoice. What’s more, both Democrats and Republicans cast ballots in unprecedented numbers, a sign that there are untapped pools of American voters on both sides that have been somewhat disenfranchised but are ready to mobilize when they perceive the stakes to be as high as many felt they were this year. This is also a warning for Democrats: yes, higher turnout ultimately favored them. But bringing more people to the polls is something that Republicans can seemingly do too, and therefore should not be the be-all and end-all of democratic campaign strategy.
Goodbye Ohio, Farewell Florida: This year, Biden became the first candidate since 1960 to win the electoral college without carrying Ohio. He also lost the forever battleground state of Florida, which went to Bill Clinton in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Trump these past two cycles. Ohio, which voted for Trump by a more than 8-percent margin this year, is likely to lose relevance in future elections, while Florida will remain heavily contested – not only because the gap that divides Republicans and Democrats there is the slimmest, two-three percent one way or the other.
Florida’s economic and demographic size and composition make it one of the most important states in the Union, and that’s not about to change. Regardless, having presidential campaigns devote less focus to the same handful of states one election after the other can only mean a more diverse array of voters will see their concerns and questions addressed, for the betterment of campaign politics for all.
Hello Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina: Biden’s flipping Georgia and Arizona, which had not gone for a democrat since 1992 and 1996, respectively, and coming close in North Carolina, only reinforces that fact. After Trump burst open the ‘Blue Wall’ of the formerly industrial Midwest by winning Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania four years ago – the three states have since reverted to the democratic column, but by less than iron-clad margins – all evidence suggests the electoral map in the U.S. is expanding.
That means a growing number of states are now in play, more accurately reflecting this country’s complex socio-economic crosscurrents than the simple coastal elites vs. everywhere in between dynamic – though there is no doubt the urban-rural divide is cementing in the U.S. like in much of the rest of the world.
Republican Latinos: Much has been made of the apparent swing of some Latino voters away from the Democrats and toward President Trump and the GOP, including in states like Texas and Florida that they seemed to have played a pivotal role in delivering to the latter. The bulk of what is in fact a rather diverse grouping that includes voters with origins as far as Argentina and as close as Cuba remains solidly democratic, of course.
Notwithstanding, this shift should be welcome news for everybody. It might force Republicans to rethink some of their most hateful anti-immigrant, racist rhetoric and think up policies that cater to these predominantly working-class voters. And it can finally free Democrats from their overwrought and increasingly stale obsession with demographic-focused campaigning, which has given rise over the years to a constellation of minority positions meant to separately appeal to one or another imagined constituency, like college-educated women, African American men, same-sex couples, etc., without any inclusive vision of what Democratic voters actually have or should have in common.
Divided government: Democrats most obviously disappointed in the race for the House of Representatives, where their advantage is now slimmer than it was, for the Senate, which is going to end up in GOP’s hands again, or, perhaps less likely, in a tie, if Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both win their run-offs in Georgia in January, and for state legislatures. The party’s inability to flip even one state assembly does not have any saving grace.
But there is a silver lining to the rest: a divided government. And that’s not because Democrats might now be forced to take more centrist positions, not in and of itself at least. Rather, their only partial control of government will hopefully keep them on their toes, focused on building on this year’s win with the aim of expanding their governing coalition at the next midterm elections, rather than squandering all of their capital at the get-go and ending up with another Tea Party and Donald Trump in two-to-four years.
Away with Toxicity: It’s needless to say that removing Trump from the White House, with his all-cap tweeting, rambling and fact-less briefings, and cable-news and ratings-driven policies, can only help restore some level of sanity and dignity to the office of the presidency.
But the departure of such a divisive public figure, hell-bent on provocation and confrontation, might also help liberals and progressives recover their lucidity, after four years during which, perhaps out of rage and haplessness, they appeared to turn increasingly inward, tying themselves in knots over performative politicking revolving around statutes and linguistics and perceived social media slights that did not and cannot possibly have any real impact on people’s lives and did nothing to endear them to the larger public.
2020 did not bring the wholesale repudiation of Trumpism that seemed to many so obvious and justified and necessary. Tens of millions of Americans took a good look at the past four loud, outrage-filled years, and decided they wanted more of that. Though he lost, Trump and his whacky MAGA movement are here to stay (the way things are going the Secret Service might have to drag him out of the White House kicking and screaming).
At the end of the day, though, Biden easily unseated an incumbent president, a rare feat in American politics. He and his Vice-President Kamala Harris have already adopted calm, institutional tones in handling the transition, despite the current administration’s complete refusal to cooperate. They also promise to usher in a far more progressive era in Washington. What’s more, voting patterns might be changing in a way that – we want to be optimistic here, though hopefully not naïve – might make for better politics in the future.