By Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
In 2016, the electoral college granted the Presidency to Trump, an unqualified reality show host who lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Our outdated electoral system led to four long years of unparalleled malfeasance that contributed to thousands of Americans dying unnecessarily and millions more suffering during a deadly pandemic.
Trump cynically played the COVID-19 pandemic to his advantage by downplaying the risks while shifting the politically unpopular decisions and the heavy lifting to the governors and mayors. His failure to have a coherent nationally coordinated response led to an ineffective checkered response and far too many shortcomings that allowed the disease to move from one state after another. All the while, he campaigned as a populist against governors were doing the right thing and urging the premature opening of schools and businesses in defiance of his own CDC guidance. He even ran against the Nation’s top health scientist Dr. Fauci while holding many super-spreader events during exploding caseloads across critical states affecting 10 million Americans and killing 240,000. Our case and death rates are unmatched by any other developed nation. Any objective assessment will reveal Trump’s culpability in the deadly carnage. Yet, he got more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016.
Trump’s popularity is not a result of any great accomplishments but propped up by his four-year non-stop, re-election campaign aimed largely at libertarian base voters. Trump never really tried to govern for all Americans and never stopped campaigning throughout his Presidency. He continued to run against Hillary Clinton, the media, President Obama and others to distract from his uncountable shortcomings. Coupled with his combative, unpredictable, and caustic personality, Trump never promoted sound policy, responsible leadership, or consistent ideology.
Trump and Biden made Pennsylvania a top priority. Biden was able to flip the Commonwealth despite Trump’s all-out effort here.
Pennsylvania Democrats worked hard, gave much, and mail-in voters delivered during a pandemic. Voters have taken a critical first step in ridding the Nation of Trump. But our long national nightmare is not over. While the hard-fought campaign for the Presidency is over, the long hard work of repairing the breaches in the walls of democracy will be arduous and will take a long time.
Germany’s DER SPIEGEL headline said it all. “Joe Biden’s Almost Impossible Task,” describes this electoral victory as a “ripple, not a wave,” adding that Biden faces the “almost impossible task of reuniting a deeply divided Nation.” In an editorial entitled, It Might Take a Miracle for Joe Biden to Reconcile America, Mathieu von Rohr warned, “When Biden takes office in January, he will be taking the helm of a United States that has been severely traumatized by four years under Trump and by this election campaign. Biden would like to return the U.S. to its pre-Trumpian normality, but he faces an uphill battle in doing so.”
Trump may be gone, but Trumpism is alive and well. One of the most troubling trends, the populist resurgence fueled by Trump is a rejection of so much of America’s past world leadership in science. We should not be surprised that the same politicians who don’t believe in science now, no longer believe in simple math.
Ironically much of the unrest is driven by the failure to stem the concentration of wealth in few hands or to tackle the declining economic status of so many blue-collar and service-based “working” people. Despite Trump’s massive tax-cut for the rich and crumbs for other Americans, Trumpsters continued to support Trump and Republicans. Failures to raise the minimum wage, pass improvements to the Nation’s healthcare systems or pass job-creating infrastructure bills, Republicans won more seats in the U. S. House than projected, making advancing an agenda more challenging.
Republican presidents have won the popular vote once in the past twenty years. Yet Republicans have tremendous power as they have mastered in minority rule. As a minority party, they enjoy constitutional features that they have mobilized. The Electoral College and the U.S. Senate are anti-majoritarian institutions. The Senate, with its filibuster rules with a majority of red states is structurally prone to domination by a minority. Both institutions, along with the SCOTUS, have subverted majority rule. Many Republican states have engaged in voter suppression especially since the SCOTUS gutted the Voter Rights Act. This dynamic occurs at the local level, too, where gerrymandering allows Republicans to inflate their state legislatures’ representation.
As our German friends observed, President-elect Biden enters the Presidency with a disturbingly weak hand. Mitch McConnell is the self-proclaimed grim reaper. His Senate has been the place where all good House bills go to die. It looks like McConnell will retain control of the Senate unless both Georgia runoff elections go for Democrats. You can bet that every dark-money funder will be flooding money into Georgia to prevent that from happening. It will take an all-out effort from across the Nation and especially from Georgia voters to win these two seats. Since Pennsylvania Senator Toomey has decided not to run again, this Pennsylvania seat will be hotly challenged in 2022, and the campaign will begin within the year with a Trumpster-backed, dark-money funded candidate.
During the election, Republican candidates and Trump warned that Biden would “pack” the Supreme Court. The truth is they already did with six Federalist-Society-appointed corporatists. The federal district and appeal courts have already been packed with more than 90 new Federalist Society judges. The SCOTUS will once again consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a raging pandemic that has not yet peaked. The SCOTUS will also clearly have the propensity to protect corporate America by constraining Biden’s attempts to address climate change and other pressing needs.
Republicans also held onto critical state legislatures while adding significant gains giving them gerrymandering control over redistricting for the next decade. Since the Pennsylvania legislature is responsible for congressional and state legislative redistricting, the outcome of the election impacts Pennsylvania’s redistricting process following the 2020 census. Congressional and state legislative maps are drawn by a commission comprised of legislators but are subject to a gubernatorial veto.
Zeynep Tufekci wrote a piece in Atlantic entitled “The best hope for American democracy is unified action by the majority: America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent.” Tufekci warned, “At the moment, the Democratic Party risks celebrating Trump’s loss and moving on—an acute danger, especially because many of its constituencies, the ones that drove Trump’s loss, are understandably tired. A political nap for a few years probably looks appealing to many who opposed Trump, but the real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has completely entrenched its power over every other branch of government: the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024. And make no mistake: They’re all thinking about it.”
In the years ahead, we must find a way to confront and overcome the fundamental flaws in our constitution that brought us so close to an end with a President who consistently operated outside of the rule of law. We must start now by helping Georgia voters to confront the Senate anti-democratic distribution that has impeded urgently needed progress on climate change, health care, and so many other pressing issues.