Four years ago I wrote you a letter answering a question: how did Donald Trump win the 2016 election? To do so, I scraped together everything I could figure out at the time to provide some kind of rationale. As much as I was writing for you, I was writing for myself. I needed explanation too. I had spent several months insisting it couldn’t and wouldn’t happen and was stung in the days after by an anxiety of what was to come.
Now we’re in 2020, just after the next Presidential election. This time Trump lost. The tides of the country had changed enough in the ballot box to say he wasn’t wanted anymore. I thought I’d write another letter—because I find myself wanting an explanation again.
Of course, so much else has changed in four years, particularly in just the last eight months. But, even more than that, you have changed. You’re seventeen now and aware enough to know what’s going on. You’re taking government in school and you’ve now met folks who voted for Trump.
You don’t need my rationale anymore. There’s less for me to teach you now. And yet it still feels like a gift to be able to write out a letter. Because Joe Biden did in fact win the presidency, but not in a way that we might have expected. Questions still abound.
I do think that when things settle Biden will have won this race by a large margin, but that’s relative. No one really wins these things by an enormous margin and, anyway, more than 70 million people voted for four more years of Trump (many of them voted for him again), despite our own incredulity at the idea of wanting him to continue.
I do see a future where close elections are common (as they have been). With micro-targeted messaging on platforms like Facebook and the model of spatial consumption entrenched in political thought, the country will increasingly be divided into (two) camps and those camps will evolve to bring in the maximum number of voters. Said another way, both parties are likely guaranteed to get at least 45% of the vote each election. That explains some of it.
The rest is a game—where sides can and will denigrate the incredible necessity of our free press (as Trump has done and is continuing to do) and politicians stretch laws in voter registration and gerrymandering (neither of which, due to state elections this year, is unfortunately going to get much better).
That all sums up to where we’ve gotten to, and in some ways tells the story of the inextricably consistent support Trump had through this tenure as President—a metric that stayed almost stuck around 43% in polling, not wavering during COVID failures, or summits with Kim Jong-Un (neither when these seemed to be going well or not).
People stayed stuck in their bubbles over the last four years and the system seems designed to keep us there, infuriated with the other side who we understand, and are exposed to, less and less. The difference in the election was a sway of independent voters, who manage to either not sit in a bubble or vote against it, and the larger turnout of those bubbles (on both sides actually).
I could go over an analysis of the election for a long time. I’m fascinated by how we vote, how we make these decisions, and how the system takes advantage of some of these things. It’s the perfect combination of psychology, sociology, and government—and yet it’s maddening, isn’t it?
So where do we go from here?
That’s the question. New leaders bring new policies and strategies. As much as Trump worked to reverse Obama’s policies (with very mixed results), Biden will too work to undo what Trump put in place. This back-and-forth gives American politics a certain see-saw that can both hurt the population and also maintain a status quo. It takes a lot to break it—but new generations like mine and yours are moving toward being a larger force in the economy, politics, business, and more. What direction will we take it?
The short-term is to help those that are hurting. Right now, that’s all of us, prevented from living our normal lives as they were before. But some are hurting more than others. Millions are unemployed. Millions are at risk of falling below the poverty line and into the pains of hunger. Those in power seem to not care they way we would like them to—hinging on the hope of a vaccine coming quickly.
And then what? We enter a new age. The post COVID world. Much will change. Public Health will be a prominent force. We’ll have a large force of the American population that will not like what they are told. Public Health may well require a small sacrifice of personal liberty. The balance of which may be the great struggle of the next generations, because if it’s not the health of our society in a viral disease, it’s likelier going to be in the grave threat of climate change.
And so we have work ahead of us as a nation. Where we are angrier than ever at those who disagree with us, and yet we need cooperation so badly to surmount our greatest challenges.
Four years ago I wrote:
In those years and the ones after, there will be many times you want to fight with great vengeance. And fight you will. And so will I. But our fighting is not done with brutality, or hate, or shaming. It is done with discourse, with wisdom, with trust and empathy and love and hope and optimism. We will not revert to any level lower than that. And on the days you find it too hard to do that and so much easier to cut someone down, to debase a group of people, to hate…..you call me. And we’ll talk through it, kid.
Well we made it four years and I think we did what we set out to do. Fought by learning, by growing wiser and smarter and more tactical about securing a brighter future ahead. But the fight doesn’t stop. To achieve that which we want—a world of peace, grace, equality, wisdom, and more—the journey has miles more until we sleep.
There’s been a hint of what’s to come from President-elect Biden in his recent speeches. I expect he’ll continue a theme in his inaugural message in January—to reflect and echo a sentiment from 160 years ago. It was then when a different new President addressed the nation.
I expect that Biden will take words from Lincoln, in Lincoln’s first inaugural address, where he looked out a nation divided—where half of it would not accept him as its leader. He knew his greatest challenge was to unite the states once more. With that burden on him, he spoke with grace, ending his speech with this:
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.