I’ll begin by stating the obvious; Trump winning re-election would be devastating. No need for hypotheticals here; it would undoubtably shift the balance of the Supreme Court for a generation, guarantee the widening of an already exorbitant wealth gap, waste time we don’t have in addressing climate change, and continue our country’s descent into neofascism. And more. So much more. Tired of dealing with Covid? What possible reason would Trump have for putting money into a problem he doesn’t believe exists, and hasn’t addressed during an election year? Structural racism embedded in policing? His re-election would be a rubber stamp of approval from his voters for intensified restrictions on protests and continued immunity for the murder of black and brown people at the hands of police.
Let’s say, then, that Joe Biden wins in November. Democrats claim the Senate and keep control of the House, and pundits call it a referendum on Trump; one that will assuredly prevent those of his like from approaching the heights of the presidency ever again. Even in this idyllic (possible yet hypothetical) world where Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20th, 2021 as the 46th President of the United States, the cathartic, joyful cries of the millions in attendance won’t be enough to drown out the siren song of reality we face when we wake up on January 21st.
This country is profoundly broken.
I’ve begun thinking of this moment we’re currently experiencing as an earthquake. From our country’s origin we were built on un-solid ground. Fault lines of slavery and inequality. Tectonic plates of greed, fear, racism, and hatred would never allow us to lock into a lasting cohesion. Sure, we’ve had years, maybe decades of apparent stability, but at the bottom there has always been movement, always a friction we couldn’t subdue. Earthquakes have hit. Jim Crow was an earthquake. The Civil Rights movement was an earthquake. Eras wherein that same greed, fear, racism and hatred on which we were built were felt so profoundly and met with such intense resistance were all earthquakes. Heroes and decent men and women have given their lives trying to reconstruct this unstable foundation, and because of their efforts we’ve seen times of relative peace; tremors would remain and ‘the big one’ was still on the horizon, but they marched so hard and spoke with such passion that we believed, at least for the moment, they had changed the ground on which we stand.
Almost 63 million Americans voted for Trump in 2016. There will be defectors; those who can’t ignore the earth’s constant movement, who are outraged by his actions in office and have grown tired of the deluge of controversy that follows him on a daily basis, but tens of millions will remain in his corner voting for him with a fervid passion. The list of transgressions that should have shaken them to their core is as long as it is horrifying, highlighted most recently by his defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old from Wisconsin who killed two protesters and injured another with an AR-15-style rifle. Trump defended Rittenhouse, his supporters defended Trump; and through the transitive property of Trumpism, his supporters defended Rittenhouse.
This current earthquake that began in 2016 can so easily feel like ‘the big one,’ but we need to understand that Joe Biden becoming president is not going to change the foundation we live on. The vocal supporters of Kyle Rittenhouse and the 60 million or so Americans that vote for Trump are still going to be our neighbors and our family members. The men and women who say Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times is OK because he may have had a knife in his car are still going to share our parks and shop in our grocery stores and raise the children that our children grow up alongside of.
Tectonic plates like to move at their own pace and structural foundation is notoriously stubborn. It is objectively wrong for voters to look at this election as a choice between the lesser of two evils, and to be of the belief that these two choices for president will produce roughly the same outcome is to be either willfully ignorant or intellectually dishonest. But without broad, sweeping changes, even if Trump loses and we return to a sense of normalcy, we won’t have built a framework that can prevent another Trump-like movement from coming along. If all we do is celebrate feeling like we’ve successfully moved past ‘the big one,’ the only thing that’s certain is it’s not going to be the last one.