2020: The Last American Election, or the Start of Something New?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In a recent article in The Atlantic, staff writer, George Packer, published an essay titled “A Political Obituary for Donald Trump.”  The subtitle: “The effects of his reign will linger. But democracy survived.”  In the last paragraph, Packer writes that the election didn’t end Trump’s lies and the fissures in American society, “but we learned that we still want democracy.”

Do “we” really, George? And who is that “we”?

Judging on the basis of their unfailing infatuation with Trump, it seems that millions of Americans would rather have autocracy and plutocracy than democracy. Also it’s not clear at this point, a month or so before the inauguration, what parts or aspects of American “democracy” have survived, and how much longer they’ll be around.

Doubtless, effects of Trump’s reign will linger, much as the noxious effects of the reign of Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Clinton and Obama have lingered. The wrongs those presidents helped to create, have lingered long after they departed office.

There’s no going back to the New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s, though some of my California friends would like that to happen. The New Deal is largely an old deal that needs constant protecting.  But let’s protect the WPA murals. Don’t surrender the past.

Just as soon as Nixon left the White House, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney began to plan their return to power and the return of their own ideas and their own men. They succeeded quite nicely. Trump and his cronies are surely planning their comeback, which would mean preventing millions of Americans from voting.

Maybe 2020 is the last real election in America. Or maybe it marks the start of something new.

Voting is, I know, a crucial part of a democracy, though voting doesn’t guarantee democracy. Millions of Americans who voted for Trump exercised a right they want to take away from other Americans, mostly Black and Brown and Red and maybe Yellow, too. Is that ironic, hypocritical or part of a right-wing conspiracy. You’re either with us or you’re against us. That seems to be the Republican attitude.

Democracy in America has often meant the freedom of white men with property to disenfranchise the descendants of slaves and former slaves, immigrants, refugees and ex-convicts. In many ways the present is an echo of the past, the past merely prologue to the present.

Like preserving wilderness, preserving democracy is, as Angela Davis and others have reminded us “a constant struggle.”

But couldn’t we have a halftime show so we can go into locker rooms, regroup and drink Gatore ad or something stronger.

Democracy doesn’t happen— it didn’t happen this fall— without the efforts of grass roots poll watchers, vote counters and citizens who stood up to Trump and the Republicans and would not allow the election to be stolen by force, intimidation and chicanery. Ted Cruz, Rudy Guliani and their ilk are as corrupt and undemocratic as they come.

It seems to me that Biden and Harris will have to combat them and their forces, some of whom work clandestinely. Biden and Harris and their friends and supporters will have to run faster and faster just to keep up, and not be overtaken and buried.

The citizens who “saved” democracy know who they are. They don’t want medals and prizes. They join the millions of slaves and workers, immigrants and refugees who have wanted the same rights that white men of property have enjoyed from the beginning of the American experiment in democracy.

Whether the world is watching us or not, doesn’t really matter, though many Americans seem to think the world is constantly watching them.

I don’t think the American Empire is in its last days, nor do I see fascism American style around the corner. Discussions about “late capitalism” can be fascinating, but I don’t think they inspired the poll watchers and the vote counters who would not be moved by blasts from the White House and from state houses around the country. Shame on you Linsday Graham. Shame on you Ted Cruz.  I wouldn’t mind canceling your autocratic culture.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.