To paraphrase James Carville, "It's the culture, stupid." Keep that concept in mind as officials in a handful of states tally the ballots that will determine whether President Trump wins reelection, or former Vice President Joe Biden takes his place. In the meantime, here are eight thoughts:
1. From sea to shining sea, American culture — popular television, quality cable, streaming services, Hollywood, the university-industrial complex, Silicon Valley and the media — has been blue for years. You have to be of a certain age to remember a time when its azure twinkle didn't sprinkle your consciousness.
2. It's easier to recall the date red tide oozed into public life: Oct. 7, 1996. That's the day Fox News launched. Politics has never been the same. Fox functions among right-leaning voters the way the Roman Catholic Church once reigned in Ireland and Italy — as a monolith that defines everything its gaze falls upon. Fox may be more profane than sacred, but its audience has an undeniable intensity.
3. Red versus blue has been one of the defining cultural characteristics of late-stage capitalism. More powerful than politics: it plays to what voters think, it celebrates their opinions, it privileges their feelings. Between Fox and Trump, between the GOP and Fox, there is not enough space to slip a cigarette rolling paper.
4. Even if Trump loses reelection, the GOP over the last 20 years has had a remarkable record for operating as what is, by national measures, an increasingly minority proposition. Anyone who doubts Republican political prowess need only look at the newly reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court, the gutting of the Affordable Care Act, and new tax breaks for the nation's most affluent.
5. There is irony in this. What I'll call "The Age of Minority GOP Transcendence" began two years after Barack Obama won the White House. The 2010 midterm elections represented one of the worst Democratic defeats in 20 years. Here's how The Guardian headlined it: "US midterm election results herald new political era as Republicans take House: Democrats pummeled at polls but retain Senate as Tea Party notches string of high-profile victories across US." Four years later, Democrats lost the Senate.
6. After Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Democrats began to smarten up and rebound. The 2018 congressional elections were a smashing success for more centrist Democrats who outpaced the woke wing of the party. And the story of the 2020 Democratic primaries is the tale of the almost thunderbolt-like win of Joe Biden after Black voters in South Carolina carried him to stunning success, which resulted in Biden capturing the nomination, and the emergence of the Biden-Kamala Harris dream-team ticket.
7. Now, here we are, the day after the voting (but not the counting) has ended, waiting for the returns from three muscular industrial states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. This was how the more responsible election analysts expected the end to be. Can the Biden peel away enough votes that were once reliably Democratic to gain the edge in the Electoral College needed to vanquish Trump-Pence? The more things have changed from four years ago, the more they have stayed the same. Even if the occupant of the Oval Office changes, the national tensions remain. After four years of psychic civil war, we're talking about a miniscule move of the needle.
8. Whatever the result, the Democrats have done what they did. The game can't be replayed. After 2016, I regularly wondered if the Democrats had forgotten how to win elections. They've been on a march to come back. Now I wonder if, as a party, they know how to connect with folks who are not Democrats. The evidence of huge voter turnout would tend to argue against that. But, then, the Republicans performed some mighty feats of getting their people to the polls. During the long infomercial that passed as the Democratic National Convention (which was very well done), I kept wondering why there were not more pictures of guys with hard hats, men and women with lunch buckets, working families with other working families. I wondered this because I think the Trump swing voter is less motivated by economic insecurity and more by cultural affinity — by the fact that although Trump may be a corrupt incompetent, he gets, or is able to pretend that he gets, what those Trump voters want. We'll get a hint of that in the midterm elections in 2022.
And then there is 2024. If Trump loses this election, expect him to run.