It could be said that waiting for ballots to be counted is like sitting in a waiting room while someone you love undergoes brain surgery or is on a ventilator battling COVID-19.
That’s how the nation has felt these last few days.
The outcome of who our next president will be is still uncertain, but by Friday Joe Biden had inched ahead in key states. Not surprisingly, Trump’s campaign has already filed multiple lawsuits, and some of his supporters are making threats and wild allegations, even though the election appears to have been fair and the result should stand.
Regardless of who wins, we have not survived unscathed. Our nation is still sick, literally and figuratively. The day after millions of Americans voted for a man who repeatedly promised the virus would magically go away, a record 100,000 of our fellow citizens tested positive, more than a thousand persons died, and the trend is getting worse, not better.
Rehabilitation from the physical and political disease is going to be hard. The incoming administration and the American people need to embrace something akin to Winston Churchill’s 1940 preparation of his people for a struggle that would require “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” At the same time, the nation will need to find unity in connecting again with our better selves.
Thankfully, owing to the professionalism of election workers across the nation, the election went relatively smoothly. But it would be a mistake to pretend that the nightmare of “what could have happened” has somehow been resolved. Now, while the memory of those possibilities is still fresh in our minds, Congress and the states should create a nonpartisan commission to normalize election procedures and ensure that going forward all votes are tracked from point of origin to final tally. Congress must also resolve longstanding perilous ambiguities in obscure but hugely consequential laws like the Electoral Count Act of 1887. That is the antiquated and complicated law and accompanying federal code that addresses such vexations as states sending different groups of electors from the same state but backing different candidates.
More fundamentally, this election showed that we need to enact the Right to Vote amendment to enshrine that most basic democratic right in the Constitution. Most people assume the right to vote is already there, but it is not, as recent Supreme Court decisions have revealed. Congress should also pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to reinstate federal protections for voting rights in a handful of states with a history of voter suppression. While we’re at it, we should put an end to gerrymandering and, for the sake of true democracy (and our sanity), we should eliminate the anachronistic Electoral College and replace it with a simple, direct popular vote for president and vice president.
In politics, both major parties have serious issues to consider. Democrats must recognize they have a negative brand value in rural areas, as shown nationally and within Washington state’s congressional and legislative outcomes. Failures by the Democrats so far to pick up seats in U.S. Senate and the net loss in the House of Representatives should be a real wake-up call that suggests changes are needed in the party’s leadership, agenda and messaging.
Democrats have and should continue to fight vigorously for social justice, health care, women’s rights and economic opportunity for all Americans. Democrats must continue to protect the environment and work to stop climate change. But even as they seek to advance that worthy agenda, it does not hurt to also show respect and willingness to listen to the needs and values of moderate current or former Republicans, rural voters and others who have rejected the Democratic Party. If people feel ignored, disrespected, dismissed or blamed for all the ills of society, they are unlikely to be receptive to the rest of your agenda regardless of how fact based or legitimate it may be.
For their part, Republicans may have escaped what could have been the salutary effect of widespread repudiation. That escape, however, does not mean their embrace of Trumpism is justified either morally or politically. How can an American political party and its leaders unapologetically seek to prevent citizens from voting? And whatever happened to Republican shibboleths such as, “my word is my bond,” or “the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers,” or “deficit spending is a curse,” or even, “Russian dictators are bad for America”?
And why do Republicans now feel it is a test of party loyalty to deny scientific facts, pretend there is no racial or gender discrimination and believe in paranoid nonsense? There are some truly fine people in the Republican party, but far too many, including in our state, either joined the bandwagon or stayed silent while their party was distorted beyond recognition by the angry cult of Trumpism.
Finally, and sadly, we must recognize that although the election appears over, the health, economic and cultural impacts of COVID-19 will likely last for years. While a vaccine remains on the horizon, the only real solution might be a temporary global lockdown coupled with economic support for workers, families and businesses. This would be difficult on several fronts, but the sooner it starts, the better, and if handled well it would help restore the economy and save millions of lives.
If President Donald Trump wants one last shot at redemption, he could call on his supporters to participate as an act of true patriotism. Set aside the political rhetoric, the phony ballot challenges, come together as a nation and stay home for a few weeks. And wear a mask. That will not redeem his reputation in history, but it would be the right thing to do.
If Trump won’t do it himself, this can be the first chance for the rest of the newly liberated Republicans to stand up and start listening to scientists instead of cowering before their defeated and soon to be irrelevant idol.