Many thought 2016 was a fluke. That’s impossible to argue now.
After days of seesawing vote counts and gut-churning uncertainty, the answer is finally in—sort of. Joe Biden has won enough electoral votes to make him America’s next president.
Chaotic as this week has been—with its Mad Max-style rolling caravans, major polling failures, and multiple unsubstantiated claims of victory from President Donald Trump—it would be a mistake to let all the bedlam and the legal battles likely to come obscure one of the most important takeaways from the race: just how close Trump got. Far from the landslide many experts predicted, the vote was a tight one.
Which raises the question of what the results actually mean for the country, beyond who becomes its next president. Pundits have tried to explain away Trump’s unexpected strong finish by pointing to lockdown fatigue or voters’ appreciation for his perceived success on the economy—at least until the pandemic cratered it.
But these rationalizations don’t tell the whole story. Most important, they don’t account for the fact that, after four years of scandal, corruption, and failure after failure, nearly half of all U.S. voters still 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 cruelty, racism, 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, rule of law, and freedom of the press; and his eagerness to tear down the institutions of governance at home and abroad—institutions that, while flawed, have provided so 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.