A post-election to test our patience and hope
I know I’m not the only one who feels an exhausted malaise at the interminable days between the presidential election, just over a month ago, and the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, each day featuring its own nutty and disheartening drama. Donald Trump’s refusal to concede to Joe Biden, and his ongoing insistence on “widespread voter fraud,” seems unlikely to end, especially since it has already enabled him to raise $200 million in contributions, supposedly to pursue his legal case, but in actuality with few constraints on his spending. Today, as I write, we have 47 more days until the inauguration — which, in a break with presidential norms, Trump is not expected to attend. Moreover, it’s not at all clear whether Trump will be restrained from publicly inserting himself as a regular malevolent force once Biden is president.
I remind myself of the pleasure I felt when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were belatedly declared victors in what, from all evidence, was a squeaky-clean election. There are moments, such during the recent CNN interview of the president and vice-president elect with Jake Tapper, when I breathe a deep breath of mental relaxation and look forward to a “normal” administration grounded in decency, truthfulness, and thoughtful policy decisions.
But, flipping the channel that same night, I find Trump’s lawyer, Mayor Guiliani with a Republican woman who is offering snarling testimony about lost ballots and rigged voting machines in Michigan. And on another channel, in an act of political self-destruction, a Georgia Republican is whipping up a crowd into promising not to vote in the runoff for senators, since it will surely be another “rigged” election. “Please, don’t vote!” I urge the crowd.
Joe Biden put the problems that he and Kamala Harris face succinctly to Jake Tapper: the country is in the midst of four simultaneous crises: a coronavirus pandemic; a recession that threatens to deepen into a depression; growing racial inequalities; and climate change. While these four crises will create an ambitious agenda for the new administration, I suspect that Biden has his eye on a fifth crisis: the substantial percentage of Americans whom Donald Trump has convinced that, because of mail-in votes or, in the words of his erstwhile lawyer, Sidney Powell, “the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China” the election has gone off the skids and Trump should have won a second term.
This fifth crisis, which some have called a loss of faith in our democracy, is an oddly paranoid phenomenon. To be clear: nothing terrible or untoward about the election has caused this loss of faith, which instead has its source in alternate news sources, including Facebook and Trump’s Twitter account, that have for some time been promoting conspiracies and stirring suspicion that what the main news outlets offer is “fake news” by Trump and those who share his news sources. In fact, of the four crises Biden says his administration faces, two are against all evidence viewed as fake: the pandemic, which is predicted to have left as many as 400,000 American dead by Inauguration Day, is supposedly fake, as is climate change, which has been causing unprecedented hurricanes, tornadoes and fires. I don’t know whether the recession is also viewed as fake. What I do know is that the Americans who follow the alternate news sources are not particularly concerned to lessen inequality among their fellow countrymen. Instead, they identify with Trump’s resentment about the freedom and opportunities “stolen” from them — by Black and Brown people, some of whom are immigrants; or by the “deep state”; or by communists and socialists, both inside and outside the country.
Biden wants to unite all Americans, which sounds sweetly naive after four years of Trump. Surely, decreasing the regularity of Trump’s divisive and cruel but self-serving pronouncements will help. It’s also possible that, as people experience the comforts of a working government, including clear directives for handling the virus, an ordered inoculations program, and financial aid to those who need it, some of the their wild and angry suspicions will be dulled. I certainly hope so — for all our sakes.
Carol Ascher, who lives in Sharon, has published seven books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as many essays and stories. She is trained as a spiritual director.