Many thought 2016 was a fluke. That’s impossible to argue now.
Whoever ends up winning the U.S. election—an answer we may get tonight, or not for weeks if some state results get bogged down in litigation—one of the most important takeaways from the race is that it was so close. Far from the landslide that polls seemed to predict, it’s come down to a nail-biter.
The big question now is what these results mean for the country. Pundits have tried to explain away President Donald Trump’s show of strength by pointing to lockdown fatigue or voters’ appreciation for his perceived success on the economy—at least until the pandemic came along and cratered it.
But these rationalizations don’t tell the whole story. Most important, they don’t account for the fact that, whoever ultimately wins the White House, nearly half of all U.S. voters endorsed an authoritarian white-nationalist serial liar who has spectacularly botched the most serious health crisis in a century. They also knowingly ignored, or willingly embraced, Trump’s flagrant cruelty and sexism, his lack of curiosity or knowledge about the government and the world, his disdain for traditional U.S. values such as fair play, the rule of law, and the freedom of the press, as well as his eagerness to tear down the institutions of governance at home and abroad—institutions that, while flawed, have provided much peace and prosperity over the years. Back in 2016, some Republicans voted for Trump because they didn’t know much about him, or because they hoped that the responsibilities of the office would transform him into a statesman. No one can make that argument today. We all now know exactly who Trump is.