Conclusion with Three Questions
First Question: Why was Joe Biden nominated?
Long before the primaries it was clear that Biden had no charisma, no base of voters, and no chance of beating Trumpus. But as I argued throughout this essay, the corporate Democrats feared their own left wing (even as the public favored it) more than it feared any Republicans. It feared the insurance companies more than the 69% of the public who supported Medicare For All. In Part Three I showed how they manipulated the primary results to steal the nomination from Bernie Sanders, just as they had done in 2016. As Johnstone writes, “There’s no point telling the Democratic establishment that Bernie would have won. They know Bernie would have won. That’s why they stopped him.”
Second Question: Why did Biden win (or Trumpus lose)?
1 – With the most profoundly unpopular and deeply reviled president in U.S. history, it still took a pandemic with 300,000 dead (by the election) and an economic depression with forty million unemployed. With no pandemic, Trumpus would be in his second term. Here is a study confirming this.
2 – A second major factor is that 108 million people voted early, nearly 70% of all votes cast. Those early ballots (and millions of other votes cast in voting booths on election day) were all paper ballots that could not be compromised or flipped by corrupted machines (as they certainly were in many states).
Certainly, an astonishingly large number of people still preferred Trumpus. But he didn’t receive 74 million votes. The official number was greatly swelled (and Biden’s greatly reduced) by those same corrupted machines (see below) in the 26 states ruled by Republicans. We will never know the actual numbers, but it’s clear that Biden won by even more than the official numbers. However, this leads to a deeper question:
Third Question: Why did the Democrats perform so badly in the House and Senate?
Why didn’t the biggest turnout in history sweep the Republicans away? Why didn’t the Democrats clobber this buffoon and his allies in massive landslides at every level? What happened to the expected “blue wave”? Why (once again) were the polls so wrong? Why did millions of people apparently split their ballots, rejecting Trumpus but re-electing Republicans who supported his policies?
Despite the heroic efforts of Tracey Abrams and countless others, voter suppression was still a major factor. The biggest turnout in history was still much smaller than the numbers of people who actually wanted to vote or thought that their votes had been counted. We know for example that over 300,000 ballots were checked into the mail system but not checked out of it. As Palast reminds us, 22% of all mail-in votes never get counted.
And there were other factors.
1 – Fraud: Can any reasonable person believe that over a million Floridians voted for raising the minimum wage but also supported Trumpus over Biden? In Kentucky, as I showed in Part Twenty, McConnellhad under 40% approval on election day, but beat Amy McGrath (who received more votes than Biden in in 119 of 120 counties) by 19 points. And, we are told, McConnell won by landslides in heavily Democratic areas, most of them using the easily hackable ES&S machines. In South Carolina, Lindsay Graham won in the same dubious manner. The pattern was repeated in Maine, Texas, Iowa, Florida and other states.
I think we can say that election commissioners in most of those 26 Republican-controlled states gamed the electronic voting machines to flip five percent of the votes. If we were to subtract 5% of Trumpus’ national totals – perhaps four million – and add them back into the other column we might have a clearer idea of Biden’s victory. And we’d have a clearer sense of what happened in the Senate and House.
Going forward, there have been two unanticipated result of Trumpus’ constant predictions – and then claims – of voter fraud. One is that millions of right wingers have been confirmed in their sense of victimhood. They have a new “Lost Cause” to organize around. The second is that once again, liberals find themselves on the defensive and have been forced to insist that there was no fraud, thus repressing, once again, the issue of the massive crimes that actually did occur and will occur next time.
2 – Apathy and voters’ distaste for moderate Democrats. About 67% of eligible voters cast ballots, but that still means a third – eighty million adults – did not. A majority of these non-voters believe it makes no difference who is elected president and that things will go on just as they did before. They also, as I wrote throughout the campaign, tend to be Latino. Only 52% of Latinos surveyed said they were registered to vote, compared to 80% of whites and 78% of Blacks.
A strong endorsement of Medicare For All would have made a major difference. As mentioned before, progressives won almost all their races, while many of the Dem losses were by moderates and freshman congresspeople in essentially blue districts. And there was much vote-splitting, in which people voted against Trumpus (rather than for Biden) and left the rest of their ballots empty. Susan Collins, for example, won by 55,000 votes. But 50,000 voters who voted for the top of the ticket failed to cast a vote in that Senate race. Early in the Georgia (pre-runoff) count, Jon Ossoff trailed David Perdue by 90,000 votes. But 98,000 voters who voted for President failed to vote in this race.“Hidden Trumpers”? Nope. I dealt with that issue in Part Twelve.
3 – Ignorance: The government provided enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks (even if it provided for no taxes to pay for them) to millions of households. Partially as a result, 40% of polled voters thought they were better off financially than they were four years ago and apparently saw little reason to vote for change.
4 – Fear: The Dems allowed the Repubs to reframe the BLM protests and the “defund the police” issue into the old standby of “law and order.” As a result, Trumpus won a higher percentage of white women than he did in 2016. And although 55% of registered young voters turned out, a much higher number – 65% – of elderly people responded to the fearmongering and chose to vote for policies that might protect their investments and privileges but would most deprive their own grandchildren of a future. Once again, we find ourselves in the realm of mythology – the killing of the children.
The Inauguration: The King is Dead. Long Live the King!
So where does this whole election cycle – and the $14 billion that was spent on it – fit into our understanding of myth? The most basic narrative at the base of the American story is that of the killing of the children. What lies on top of that within our psyches is American innocence. So at the end, I refer back to the questions I ask in interviews: When did you lose your innocence? and When did you lose it again?
When innocence is the foundation of a belief system, when a culture refuses to offer its young people the initiatory rituals that affirm their unique gifts and permanently erase their childhood innocence, people have little choice but to live lives of denial and perpetual childishness. When the inevitable tears in the fabric of the myth of innocence appear, it quickly closes back up, and each loss of innocence, no matter how old we are or how often it happens, feels like the first time. So only the most naïve among us should be surprised to see that Nancy Pelosi’s initial statement about the Capitol insurrection was: We’ve really lost our innocence.
After five years of non-stop lies, insults, boasts, threats, buffoonery, misogyny, racism and gratuitous cruelty, Trumpus had so alienated so many of us that exhaustion, massive anxiety and a collective PTSD had set in even before the insurrection at the Capitol. Brand Trumpus was so toxic to all but the legions who had turned him into a cult leader that it actually had the effect of building up Brand Biden. By inauguration day, liberal America had conjured up an image of a kindly, religious, poetry-spouting, emotionally accessible – yet determined, laser-focused, purposeful leader. A public servant and “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief,” whom the San Francisco Chronicle called our “mourner in chief.”
The sentiment was authentic, even as we know (or should know) his deepest allegiances. We know of course that the Empire will abide. We know that the military-industrial complex was happy with either candidate. We know that the incomprehensively expensive and cruel “War on Terror” will continue. We know Biden’s long history of facilitating mass incarceration. We know that 24 hours after presiding over a memorial to the victims of the pandemic, the new administration announced that it will continue Trumpus’ murderous policies in Palestine and Venezuela. We know that one of the invited guests listening to Biden’s denunciation of fascist violence was Carlos Vecchio, who in 2014 had fled to the United States to escape “incitement of violence” charges in Venezuela. And we remember Noam Chomsky’s quote: If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.
But – for one moment at least – having left his stuttering and self-sabotaging behind him, Biden stepped into the role of Sacred King, or at least a guy you might actually want to have a beer with.
The word inaugurate (“induction into an office with suitable ceremonies”) comes from the same root as augury. An augur was a religious official in ancient Rome who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens. The deeper root may be avis (bird), since the flights, singing, and feeding of birds were important objects of divination, leading to words such as auspicious. One of ancient Greece’s greatest mythmakers, Aeschylus, said of another one, Euripides, “He shows people who they are, and I show them who they might be.” The essence of the ritual imagination may well be the willingness to hold the tension of the opposites while still imagining a positive outcome. May it be so.
The end of this election cycle leaves us exhausted, fearful, sick and broke, yet relieved to put Trumpus (if not the conditions that led to him) behind us. We know we felt this way when Clinton replaced one Bush and Obama replaced another. We know that they manipulated our innocent expectations of a happy ending. Looking back, we know that they served the Empire just as their predecessors had. And we know that we have no choice at this point but to imagine something better. May the birds return and show us the signs.