How long did you wait for this? How impossible did it used to feel that we’d ever get to this point? What were you thinking in those early morning hours of November 9, 2016? Or in those early evening hours on November 3, 2020?
Well, we did it, Joe. Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States. But I gotta say, I thought I’d feel a little happier. I’d assumed that the day Donald Trump left office would be one of those “see a doctor if it lasts longer than four hours” days. Or that it’d be like when the Cubs won the World Series, with crashing waves of spontaneous euphoria bursting through unannounced for weeks. Or at very least, that it’d be something along the lines of November 7, 2020, with the crowds in the streets and the joy in the air.
But it doesn’t feel like that.
Maybe it’s because of all the dead people. The crematoriums running past capacity in LA County, EMTs instructed not to bother bringing those who are too close to death to the hospital. The nurses and doctors who worked past the breaking point, pleading with us to stay home as patients lay in the hallway. Yes, the pandemic that’s been permitted to run roughshod over an entire people is probably part of it.
Or maybe it’s the Nazis. The lunatic fringe that has prospered like no other group under Trump’s leadership, recruiting enough members to overtake a Capitol police force still trained to see no hint of threat in white people with guns. It’s definitely hard to feel joy when the same people who think Tom Hanks chugs baby blood also get to choose the nominees for one of the two major parties.
Or it could be Joe Manchin. We worked and organized and donated and volunteered and wrote letters and registered and voted like the world depended on it… and now Joe Manchin gets to decide which of our dreams live and die. The guy who voted to confirm Kavanbrough and got elected by shooting a climate bill on TV. It could definitely be Joe Manchin.
Perhaps it’s the 74 million votes. We can all agree that that’s altogether too many votes to re-elect the man who oversaw the resurgence of the aforementioned Nazis, the unchecked spread of the aforementioned pandemic, and incited the aforementioned insurrection. But unless the machines really were rigged, he got more votes than any candidate in American history without the middle name Robinette. That doesn’t inspire much excitement.
I guess it could be because of the Supreme Court too. We got a lot of wins these past four years, mainly because Donald Trump is deeply incompetent—but Mitch McConnell is not. And so, a 6–3 conservative majority is enshrined for decades, likely to strip healthcare and rights from anyone who didn’t party with Brett. And the more you think about it, the more likely it seems that SCOTUS is the reason.
There’s a big part of me that thinks it’s the way he’s leaving. We wanted him in handcuffs, or at very least resigning in some sort of self-pardon deal. Instead, he’s off to Mar-A-Lago (in the country’s largest swing state, which he won TWICE) and will likely be able to sell a book or start a TV station to pay off his debts. His children seem primed to run for office. Impeached twice is nice, but it’s a far cry from those Mueller fever dreams, and I’m not sure everyone got over that.
But I think it’s something worse. It’s a lack of hope.
No one really wanted this. Democrats nominated Biden because we thought he could win and put an end to the nightmare (we were right!) and because some core constituencies thought they could trust him to do the moral thing (they might be right!). But no one did it because they were so deeply inspired by him. No one voted Biden for the hope of it all.
Some people did so very enthusiastically, myself included. But when Biden first got to the White House in 2008 it was under the delightly vague banner of “hope and change.” As much as his ace campaign staff tried putting aviators on ice cream cones and getting Eminem to cut sick ads, his 2020 banner was “fewer excess deaths per capita.” We voted for Biden because we were sad and nearly broken by what’s happened, not because we hoped for much better.
No one voted for Donald Trump out of hope either. As much ink has been spilled on the streets of Youngstown trying to explain How Trump Won, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone answer this simple question: have you ever found a passionate Trump supporter who is happy with their life? Someone who wears the hat and pledges loyalty to him, then goes home to a loving home, fulfilled by the days that pass and content in their personhood? If such a person exists, they’ve done an excellent job of hiding.
They voted for him because they’re angry. Angry at all different things, most likely, but angry.
This time, sadness beat anger. And for now, that has to be enough.