Ballots are still outstanding in several swing states, but we know who won the popular vote in the Presidential race. What remains uncertain is who will secure the Electoral College votes to legally claim the Office of the President. It is fair to say Vice President Joe Biden is a slight favorite to defeat President Donald Trump. But regardless of the outcome, this was clearly not the landslide that many Democrats — and far too few Republicans — had hoped for. Quite the opposite, Democrats across the political spectrum must now reckon with perhaps an even harsher truth. With our inability for Democrats to coalesce around a bold and transformative vision for America, we experienced a moral defeat to Donald Trump’s agenda to Make America Great.
The nation faces a raging pandemic, unseen levels of economic inequality, state sanctioned white supremacy and violence as well as a climate crisis worsening at every turn. The oft-heard cliché following any election that tells us “now, the real work begins” simply falls short to encompass this historic crossroads.
During these crises, we are left with a Republican party that has abandoned any pretense of racial equity and democratic principles in favor of voter suppression and minority policy rulings overseen by a partisan judiciary at all levels of government. It has grossly mismanaged a pandemic that has resulted in 230,000 lives lost and counting while closing our border and simultaneously advocating efforts to strip healthcare coverage from millions of people. It has stripped rights for workers, implemented the most regressive tax cut in generations, and attacked an ever-eroding social safety net.
Trump’s agenda to “Make America Great Again” inspired the highest turnout election for any Republican president in American history. It has likely resulted in GOP control of the United States Senate. As of now, the GOP has likely gained seats in the House of Representatives and secured key state legislatures with redistricting on the horizon. We saw over efforts to untether our democracy from the rule of law. The strength of this GOP overperformance has only emboldened the likelihood of minority policy rule in the Senate and judiciary for a generation.
The dream of true institutional justice and reform in the next Congress drove many in the lead up to this election. The abolishment of the filibuster, statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and a new voter bill of rights were all on the table. Those dreams are likely gone, Biden presidency or not.
It is not enough for Democrats to feel comfort in a potential Biden administration or holding a majority in the United States House. They must come to terms with the obvious: people witnessed four years of Donald Trump, and millions came out to vote for the first time to support him. His presidency, and his politics, are not an aberration, not an anomaly. They are deeply embedded in the roots of American white supremacy and have sprouted with fury as our civic and public institutions has faced austerity politics that leave them barren.
But in the face of this reality, Democrats have given little overarching argument for how to solve this crisis. Half measures are offered in hopes of acquiring the elusive middle. The Republican platform is one filled with clear deceit and overt racism. Even in the face of our dismay and shock, Republicans are always succeeding where the Democratic platform struggles: it identifies a problem, offers a solution, and delivers on it.
Democrats must proceed with one guiding light in mind: protect, grant, and expand the inalienable rights of equity, equality, and a social safety net to those who have been denied them for too long. The party must offer a bold vision for a future that unapologetically fights to improve the lives of rural voters in Wisconsin or Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. This means keeping promises to fight for the elimination of student debt, raising the minimum wage, universal childcare, and the expansion of healthcare to all Americans. Concurrently, it must not shy away in advancing conversations on issues such as abortion, gun rights, immigration, and public safety.
This moment calls for a multi-racial, multi-class, and intergenerational response. The old Democratic playbook cannot withstand the forces on display these past four years, no matter the President come January 2021. Democrats must stop governing in fear of the next election and begin boldly reshaping the rebirth of our nation with the next generation in mind.
Jon Hillman, Senior Consultant and Researcher at Rivera Consulting, Inc; Wilnelia Rivera, President at Rivera Consulting, Inc.