A republic? I'm no longer sure we can keep it after an excruciating Election Night that devolved after midnight into a strange, inert uncertainty. But the things that seem pretty clear on Wednesday morning are terrible enough. Despite an Electoral College map that leans ever so slightly in Joe Biden's direction, millions of votes remain to be counted, President Trump is (so predictably) falsely claiming victory, and GOP election-law lawyers are out there shopping for friendly judges. Even worse, if Biden jumps these hurdles and becomes 46th president, he seems all but certain to face a GOP Senate that will block any meaningful reforms. So ... good morning, America!
A surprisingly smooth Election Day was a glide path to America's crash landing
For months, the 2020 election has been spun and rightfully so as more than a choice between two candidates, but as a battle for the soul of America.
Nobody said this was going to be easy. As a bright November sun finally rose Wednesday morning, a bleary-eyed nation fitfully woke up just as divided and, arguably, just as broken as when we finally went to sleep hours earlier.
If this was the battle for America's soul, then the United States looks to be on the brink of eternal, or at least long-term, damnation.
An Electoral College map that still looks winnable for Joe Biden thanks to his strength with suburban voters in Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and here in Pennsylvania still faces a 1970s' arcade game worth of pop-up highway obstacles to navigate, starting with President Trump's all-too-predictable 2 a.m. declarations of victory and non-existent Democratic fraud. Unfortunately, Trump and the GOP's button-down lawyers may have days to press these bogus claims, as the predicted slow vote count including right here in Philadelphia was on a pace to last through this week, and possibly beyond.
But and I hate to sound so deflated and cynical, especially as some of you are drinking your late-morning coffee the coming days of vote-counting chaos, punctuated by protests, probably isn't the worst of it. For one thing, although a few races are yet to be called, it looks very likely that Mitch McConnell and a GOP Senate will remain in power, meaning that even if Biden can pry Trump away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the nation faces bitter gridlock, with serious action on climate change, health-care reform and a makeover of the Trump/McConnell extreme right-wing, white-male judiciary now dead on arrival.
If this was the battle for America's soul, then the United States looks to be on the brink of eternal, or at least long-term, damnation. The country had four years to digest Donald Trump's thousands of blatant lies, his embrace of white supremacy, his family's financial corruption, and his rejection of science and his incompetence that led to tens of thousands of needless, excess deaths from the coronavirus, and yet more folks lined up to vote for him on Tuesday than in 2016.
Our country is governed by 18th century rules that created a presidency where it's a mountain for the candidate with the most votes to win, a Senate that enshrines minority rule, and a retrograde judiciary that is locked in for decades. Toss in a riled-up public where 75 million angry Americans vote revenge over policy, celebrity over sanity, and hate over hope and the 2020s look like a potentially lost decade.
That grim portrait of a divided nation emerged after what felt like the longest Election Day in American history. It started before the sun even rose, as voters in all 50 states lined up in the dawn gloaming and stiff November gales to cast their ballots as soon as the polls opened as if they were fearful the vagaries of 2020 would crash down on them if they waited any later.
Midmorning, I hopped in my car and headed to St. Maron Maronite Catholic Church in the heart of South Philadelphia, after I'd seen a photo of shivering masses of voters lined up for two blocks. The church is just a stone's throw from South Street, where the CVS and Whole Foods were covered in plywood, the stress wall of a national nervous breakdown.
But when I arrived at 11:30 a.m., the lines had dissipated, the sun was poking through, and I ran into something I never expected at the end of such a fraught election: Unbridled joy, coursing through the narrow canyon of Ellsworth Street. That came courtesy of the nine superheroes of the Sun Ra Arkestra in trippy costumes, like Mummers from outer space and their patrons, the nonpartisan Election Defenders and their pro-democracy celebration called Joy to the Polls.
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