The Backlash Against Trump Never Came

Half of American voters have a message for politicians: Cage as many kids as you want. Ignore the pandemic. There will be no consequences.

Trump is suspended in mid-air, as though he defies gravity, having walked off a cliff

Look, I don’t know any more than you do, but what I know so far feels bleak. Because even if Trump ends up losing, Trumpism has won.

There are still millions of mail-in ballots to be counted, namely in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Biden could still win. Despite all that, Donald Trump has already tried to seize victory and lied about there being some kind of fraud preventing him from winning. We might not know who won the presidency for a few more days, possibly weeks, causing a deep discomfort that Americans just have to learn to get used to.

But what the numbers tell us so far is dispiriting for anyone who isn’t a big fan of putting children in cages or allowing more than 230,000 Americans to die from a pandemic without even a presidential acknowledgment of this loss and willingness to prevent more deaths. So far, Trump has 68.2 million votes. In 2016, he had just 62.9 million. Though exit polling is largely flawed, it seems that even more white women voted for Trump this time than in 2016. Even if Trump does lose this election — which he still might — there was no sharp rebuke of Trump, his policies, or his associates. There was no blue wave, blue crush, blue anything. For Democrats, the 2020 election was supposed to have been a repudiation of Trump and all he’s done to destabilize the country (and the world) in the last four years. But Trump’s failures were, somehow, not severe enough to trigger the kind of landslide liberals and progressives were dreaming of and that pollsters wrongly predicted was plausible.

Even if Trump does lose this election — which he still might — there was no sharp rebuke of Trump, his policies, or his associates.

And there were so, so many reasons to repudiate Trump. Were the hundreds of thousands of people killed by an out-of-control pandemic not enough? Was his continued refusal to listen to scientists and epidemiologists along with threats to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, seemingly the only voice of reason remotely close to the White House, not terrifying enough to vote for another option? What about the fact that he was impeached earlier this year, a little detail forgotten to the absurd history of 2020. Did a summer of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, countless videos of police brutalizing if not killing Black people, not convince you that a vote for Trump is a vote for violent racism? Anti-Blackness was on the ballot too, and instead of renouncing it, half the country seemed to embrace it.

There’s more bad news for anyone who didn’t vote for Trump, or anyone hoping for a world where we could stop worrying about things like the spread of QAnon and rampant misinformation. For the foreseeable future, the country will have to contend with Trump, his supporters, and his politics of cruelty. What does it mean that more than 68 million Americans voted to keep the status quo of the last four years? What does it mean that Trump received even more votes than 2016, that he’s gained even more popularity?? Nothing good, I don’t think, as I write this from my apartment because I still can’t go back to the office due to a pandemic that the president has still not remotely gotten under control for the last eight months. And continues to downplay.

But maybe worse than a possible Trump win is the likelihood that Trumpism is here to stay. Lindsey Graham, who started off as a Republican critic of Trump before his backbone melted inside his own body and he became a cheerleader for the president, won his South Carolina Senate seat yet again by a little more than 55% — despite facing a talented challenger who raised more money than any candidate for the Senate, ever. Mitch McConnell, a haunted Papa Smurf who helped ram through the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett despite the election being mere weeks away, won his reelection as well. There was no blue wave in the Senate — as of this writing, Republicans hold 48 seats to the Democrats’ 46. Even if Trump does lose, men like McConnell and Graham are still in office and will continue to block progressive policies.

There was no blue wave, blue crush, blue anything.

Conspiracy theories and mass delusions like QAnon — which Trump seems to believe, at least in part — are also not going away no matter who wins this election. In fact, they continue to seep into the mainstream and into our politics. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a vocal QAnon believer, just won her first congressional seat in Georgia with no Democratic opponent. In June, the vehement Trump supporter posted videos of herself on Twitter threatening “antifa terrorists” while holding an AR-15. In September, she also posted an image of herself on Facebook holding a gun next to pictures of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. As of this writing, while Democrats still control the House of Representatives, they only do so by a pretty small margin. The promise of the 2018 blue wave has crashed. There’s incredible hope in the fact that the first trans senator — Sarah McBride — and first Black and openly gay members of Congress — Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones — were elected, but progressive hopes still couldn’t turn states like South Carolina or Texas blue.

It’s not always about the win. The numbers alone are depressing enough, and tell us the horrifying truth about millions of American voters: blatant racism, sexism, and, ultimately, mass American deaths are all acceptable enough for them to vote for more of it. Preserving the status quo, however miserable it may be, is more important than contending with any kind of progressive change. The truth is that there are enough voters in the US who don’t care that Trump’s policies — and the policies of his associates — affect other people to the point of literal death.

There’s an absolute dearth of compassion; the voters who voted for Trump likely don’t care that the Trump administration has made life harder, for example, for trans people or undocumented immigrants. All this in exchange for a “strong economy,” whatever that means.

The promise of the 2018 blue wave has crashed.

Democrats were hoping not just for a Biden win, but for an undeniable turn away from Trump and the GOP. With reports of unprecedented voter turnout, there was a feeling that such a rejection was possible — that Americans had grown tired of four years of chaos, that Republicans would vote across party lines for a centrist like Biden. And maybe some did — after all, lifelong Republicans like John Kasich and groups like the Lincoln Project certainly made what seemed like effective pleas.

But it was never enough for Biden to just win this election. Instead, many were hungry for an indisputable message to be delivered to Trump: You have failed and we want you out. Instead, the election has become another protracted, polarizing fight, and another reminder that Trump has irrevocably changed the country — and the Republican party — for good. Trumpism isn’t some anomaly or fluke. It’s here to stay, and someone will have to lead us through a worsening pandemic, a recession and possible depression, massive unemployment, and the inevitable protests that continue. And what comes after this election, no matter who wins in the end, is something to fear. ●

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