Tap the average Democrat on the shoulder in 2019 and ask who they’d like to see elected president in 2020, you would not find a majority for Joe Biden.
Not when there were exciting young candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang, beloved ideological warhorses like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I liked Kamala Harris, for her sparkling fierceness.
Biden was a relic and a sideman, the guffawing Ed McMahon to Barack Obama’s Johnny Carson. Plus, at 78 by Inauguration Day, he would be the oldest man to assume the presidency, a full eight years older than Donald Trump, four years his junior, was when he was sworn in four years ago.
Look forward, not back. Looking backward is the Republicans’ game plan. They don’t want a president, they want a time machine.
Biden cleaned up well. The Democrats ran a tight, disciplined campaign. They buried their divisions in the face of overwhelming danger — thank you Bernie Bros., a grateful party salutes you! — the way the squabbling nations of earth unite to battle an invader from outer space in science fiction movies.
My guess is the joy that radiated across the country this weekend was not so much exultation that Joe Biden will lead the country as relief that Donald Trump won’t.
And while I don’t want to spoil the party, I do think Monday morning, with its back-to-work vibe, is a good moment to rub the stardust out of our eyes and stare down the road ahead.
Let’s be clear:
America got lucky with Donald Trump. We truly did. That he was a fraud and a liar, a buffoon and a swine was manifestly clear on Election Day 2016. Nearly half of the country voted for him anyway. They did so again in 2020 and will scan the skies for their next chance.
We got lucky because a more skillful, disciplined, intelligent would-be demagogue could have done a more thorough job trashing our democratic norms and mesmerizing those eager to salaam before a despot.
We might not be so lucky next time. When a Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio finally stand up, brush the dirt off their shoulders from four years of rolling at Donald Trump’s feet like puppies, unscrew a jar of Ultra Orange Trumpface and start smearing it across their cheeks.
We got lucky. Because the lesson of Donald Trump is that many supposedly free Americans will support anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.
Why? Lots of reasons. Fear, most of all. Bigotry, remember, is just fear rampant. I don’t think we quite recognize the flinching way many Americans approach the world, recoiling in terror at anything different than themselves, racially, ethnically or, especially, sexually. It isn’t that they can’t bake a wedding cake for a gay couple: They don’t want the couple to come through the bakery door to order it. Or live down the street.
Freedom is hard. Not the doing whatever you want part. People generally like that. It’s the letting others do what they like part. That’s not so easy, I think because the existence of difference is an implicit criticism.
What to do? Paying attention to Trump world’s problems won’t help. If you noticed, Barack Obama got health care for 30 million Americans. In red states they took the health care, hated him anyway and elected officials who struggle to yank that health care away.
No, the thing to do is go about the business of addressing the nation’s problems — this raging pandemic, the economic distress it causes, plus climate change, bone-deep baked-in systemic racism, the rest.
That won’t win Trump’s fans over, but we’ll have to march forward without them. I try to not have too many rules writing this column, but one I do respect is, “Don’t write for people who hate you.”
Hate is a horror movie. Remember that. And like any horror movie, part of the shock is the ugliness of the evil faced. Another part is surprise. Hate leaps out at you. And when you think it’s finally defeated, it’s not. The beast you’ve buried comes rearing out of the grave to grab you around the throat.
So yes, I’m happy. Celebrate, with drum lines and trumpets and dancing in the street. But while we flutter our hands to heaven, let’s all keep an eye on the mound in front of Trumpism’s tombstone, and be ready when the dirt starts vibrating.