"...the reason your mom is laughing so much tonight is because she's drunk, and the reason she's crying is because she's drunk." - Maya Rudolph as Vice President - Elect Kamala Harris on "Saturday Night Live," November 7, 2020
"Pyrrhic victory - a victory that is offset by staggering losses." - Google
"Trump is a demagogue who .... makes people feel proud of things they had been made to feel ashamed of, even if they should have been ashamed." - Bret Stephens, New York Times, Nov 9, 2020
I was in my car when I heard that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had been declared winners of the 2020 presidential election. Tears erupted and my grip on the steering wheel grew shaky as I gasped for air. The tension of last week flowed out with the salt water and when I parked at the grocery store I had to slump over the dash and breathe for a few minutes before I could leave my car.
Dazed and pleasantly shocked, I gathered random groceries; cheese ravioli for a family that can't eat dairy, ground bison, shots of turmeric (to combat the evening alcohol), and chocolate zucchini bread with coconut whipped topping for celebrating. As the Natural Grocers' employee checked my disparate items I whispered, "Did you hear the news?" and when she stared at me blankly I told her that Biden had won. Her eyes widened and smile lines broke out above the mask. "That's the best news I've ever heard," she said, "thank you."
An avalanche of positive texts, fireworks-and-flags gifs, and excited exclamation points filled the rest of the day. Our TV was on CNN - unheard of in our house where we typically eschew all forms of televised news - and we drank champagne during the acceptance speeches, when I cried all over again. The first woman in the white house, the diversity of the first and second families, the happiness of the people, it all overwhelmed me. I was not drunk - at least not on alcohol - but I was laughing, crying and dancing.
And yet there was a dark side to the celebrations. Our lame-duck President, our "dic-tweeter" (as my friend Tim says), is categorically incapable of acknowledging defeat. He cannot admit to being a loser and will never agree to leave office in any sane or rational way. Leading senators are supporting his futile claims of fraud even as all living US Presidents, world leaders and even some admirable congressional Republicans (Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse) congratulate Biden and Harris and prepare for a welcome new chapter.
It's extremely difficult to understand how 70 million Americans could vote for a sociopath, a liar, and a greedy narcissist whose pathetic inability to lead has cost over 230 thousand Americans their lives. He seeks only to enrich his bloated self and his grasping family. Why did this dishonest shyster seem preferable to honest old Joe for such a huge number of our fellow citizens?
One reason, described by Stephens in the NYT, explains how Trump gives people permission to express feelings they have previously been made to feel ashamed of (racism, misogyny, hatred of liberals). I had to look up the word "demagogue," which means someone who "seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument" (Oxford Languages) and certainly Trump is a good example. The freedom to express hatred has, sadly, been liberating for many even as it has hurt, scared or even killed many targets of that hatred.
Stephens and his co-author Gail Collins also explain the votes for Trump through the lens of the urban - rural divide. Collins says "If you look at political divisions that way, they seem more reasonable - less selfish and arbitrary. If you live in an urban area, you're continually reminded of how much we need government to keep order and provide services. If you're rural, everything seems to be put on your own back, and government spending just seems intrusive." (NYT). That rational explanation appeals to the part of my brain that keeps screaming "Why?!"
Lastly, James Hamblin (The Atlantic) explains how Trump sold his failure on the virus response to so many people by illustrating how "when we are sick or threatened by disease, we seem uniquely susceptible to scams." Quacks like Trump offer an easy solution, a comforting - though false - truth that is easier to believe than the cold rationality of scientists and medical professionals. The fact resonates with me. When I was desperately ill with a unique auto-immune problem I tried everything under the sun to heal, including far-fetched modalities such as "tapping" or so-called professionals with ESP who could diagnose and cure me over the phone.
If a charismatic leader sells you his (or her) false truth you are comforted regardless of rationality. People buy into the person of the leader rather than pay attention to the truth (or lack thereof) in what that leader says. Stephens concludes, "orienting your sense of truth around a person can be more comforting than doing so around a nebulous, uncertain, or otherwise threatening reality." It's easier not to think.
So we have 70 million people who have abdicated the need for careful thought revolving around the person of Donald Trump, who refuses to vacate the White House or acknowledge the legitimate victory of his opponent. My brief weekend celebration has faded into memory as headlines once again generate tension and stress. Yesterday the lame duck fired his Secretary of Defense - what will happen today? No one can predict what will occur over the next seven weeks, but it's certain that our work to restore hope, truth, science and empathy is far from over.