Coaches have a phrase — “I’ll take the win” — which they utter after grasping victory from apparent defeat. As I write, the presidential election of 2020 has yet to be decided. I don’t know whether the “blue” team or the “red” team won. Irrespective of the political outcome, America has lost morally.
This election is the mother of binary choices, pitting two radically different men against each other. Donald Trump and Joe Biden, both septuagenarian white men, have radically different agendas. Trump would drag America “back to the future,” trying to recapture a bygone era in which white supremacy went largely unchallenged. (His beloved wall is a perfect metaphor for his presidency.)
Conversely, Joe Biden, embracing the America of today (and tomorrow) understands that nobody can bend the future to his or her will. America is evolving away from old standards, values and power structures. That change has begun — and it is inexorable. The differences between these two men are so stark that the outcome should not even be close (i.e., in Biden’s favor). Sadly, we have what appears to be essentially an electoral tie.
For decades there had been a sharp partisan divide that was based largely on dull political differences. In other words, Republicans and Democrats primarily debated along the margins of public policy (e.g., whether to raise or lower taxes, how to deal with the national debt, etc.). Here and there they had heated arguments about substantial ideological differences, such as regarding abortion, but those were the exceptions. Europeans looked at most of the differences between the two major parties and scoffed at the intensity of our parochialism. (For example, Republicans have long called Democrats “socialists” without any regard to objective reality.)
Those halcyon days are long gone. Around the time that George W. Bush became president, long-standing fault lines became tectonic shifts, resulting in volcanic political eruptions. These rifts have grown immensely — largely as a result of right-wing talk radio and the rise of Fox News. At base these divisions are primarily due to the evil twin sisters of racism and fears about economic decline. In short, white Americans have become increasingly concerned about this nation’s rapidly changing racial and ethnic demographics. They also experience substantial anxiety regarding socioeconomic dislocation (i.e., no longer being “at the top of the food chain”).
The rise of Donald Trump, a political neophyte, is the inevitable result of those concerns. Deftly navigating — and intensifying — the politics of white grievance led him down the yellow brick road to the White House. I believe that, were it not for the pandemic and ensuing economic depression, Trump would have been able to declare an easy victory early on election night. That is a frightening prospect that won’t go away even if Biden ultimately prevails.
Irrespective of who the American people elect to lead this nation, there is a core set of challenges that must be addressed. Right now. Too many people in America are poor. Too many people in America are poorly educated — or are educated but unable to pay their college loan bill. Too many people in America lack access to high-quality health care. (Note that all of these facts also apply to most countries in the world, so the problems must be addressed on a global scale.)
Even if Joe Biden won the election, now is not the time to be complacent. Even before the pandemic, too many people died unnecessarily due to lack of health care. Too many people are one or two checks away from homelessness. And our planet is prematurely dying due to man-made climate change.
At its base, politics is primarily a fight about the allocation of resources. To the extent that one side can convince enough people that their causes are good and just, it should be easy enough to win them over. But the proliferation of miseducation and misinformation constitute a toxic brew, especially when dissension and division are the daily diet from the White House. In short, what we’re facing today is not about partisan politics; it is about justice, dignity and recognizing our shared humanity. One candidate agrees with this view; the other does not.
Joe Biden is an imperfect candidate for the presidency. But, if he prevails, I’ll take the win.
Larry Leaf is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.