The election wasn’t even over yet before I saw the first headline, on the morning of November 4, from Jacobin, declaring that a Biden-led presidency would be completely ineffectual. The Democrats hadn’t won enough Senate seats.
Even with a Biden victory, that great beast, Mitch McConnell, would likely continue to hold sway over the chamber. Even if the Dems managed to flip the Senate, “we have every reason to doubt that . . . the Democratic Party leadership with Biden at the helm will pursue any ambitious reforms.” Still more pessimistically—and likely—if the Senate remained under Republican control, Biden would be able to accomplish pretty much nothing. Maybe even less than nothing.
I get that the smart kids at Jacobin don’t think Biden will accomplish much, policy-wise. They pulled hard for Bernie Sanders. So did I.
The level of disaffection from the party I felt—shared by many of the Sanders supporters I know—in early March and April, had me gloomily fantasizing about not voting at all. The machinery of the Democratic party had left progressive millennials out in the cold.
Even with a Biden presidency, many of us millennials have no hope of achieving anywhere near the kind of prosperity our parents have attained. Getting out from under our student loan burdens seems decades away. The idea of buying a house at any point in our lives seems laughable. Millennials with graduate degrees continue to scrape by in adjunct professor positions, making coffee for other people, substitute teaching, delivering for Postmates, driving for Uber, living under a constant fear of getting laid off. (As I write this I’m searching for a way to replace the paltry thousand dollars a month I was making teaching two English classes this semester. I got laid off a few months ago.) There are no signs that any of this will change.
And yet—as I looked at the returns slowly creeping in Biden’s favor in Georgia and Pennsylvania, I thought: can we not enjoy this? For at least a second?
A Biden presidency paired with a McConnell-led Senate won’t result in the kind of structural changes that the far-left wing of the party was hoping for. It just won’t, and it can’t.
But there are other factors worth considering. One is the feeling of living in this country. For four years it has felt like a bad dream to be an American, that dream growing steadily worse until it morphed into a full-blown nightmare beginning this March, when we watched our president shrug his shoulders as hundreds of thousands of us began to die.
We got sick, and Trump went golfing. We lost our jobs, and Trump talked about drinking bleach. Our friends and family members lost loved ones and he ridiculed mask-wearing. People died and funerals were canceled and Trump talked about how one day the pandemic would just disappear, poof. Black men continued to be gunned down in our streets and Trump ordered federal police to brutalize protestors so that he could have his picture taken in front of a church while holding a Bible. Both Black and white protestors were brutalized by cops in nearly every major city in this country. In Kenosha, a vigilante shot two of them. Trump said the protestors—the dead protestors—were bad people.
We prepared to vote in one of the most important elections in American history and Donald Trump said that they should not count our votes. He said they shouldn’t count our votes because they came in the mail, because he knew he could not win if they did so. He said all this even though he and Melania both voted by mail. He stoked the flames of vigilantes and conspiracy theorists all over the country.
All of that is over. Yes, there are still votes to count, and almost surely at least one recount to come. Yes, Trump has not conceded. It may be awhile before his addled brainstem compels him to do so. There will be legal battles, and it seems ever likelier that he will continue his depraved attempt to incite his followers to violence—but it’s over. Joe Biden will be our next president.
Even if I know Biden will not do what I think a President Sanders would’ve done, he will act decisively on the pandemic. Even if there is not enough movement on climate change, there will be movement in the right direction. Even if I have little hope for the cancellation of student debt and free public college, at least with Biden at the helm, we will get pandemic relief, and maybe, just maybe, some movement on those other fronts.
If, like me, you considered dropping your Democratic party membership altogether back in March and April, you may say: all that isn’t enough. To fix the problems facing an entire generation of disaffected young Americans and the children they’re having, or hoping to have, we needed better than Biden.
And you’d be right. Structurally, and even imaginatively, Biden is not in a position to effect those large-scale changes.
And yet, if even Stuart Stevens, a former top strategist for Mitt Romney and for several other Republican presidential campaigns, as well as advisor to the Lincoln Project—someone I’m deeply loath to agree with—would say, “I’m begging you [Democrats], be happy. Please. [Biden] is racking up more votes than any candidate in history. You flipped AZ, MI, WI, NE2. You’re going to flip PA & probably GA. You beat an incumbent president. You elected first Black woman VP. Savor it. You won,”—then we’ve got something here.
For now, even for those of us who feel left behind by the neo-liberal wing of our own party, there is something to savor in all of this. We can go back to being miserable soon enough. Hell, we will go back to being miserable soon enough. But this—this!—is a moment to celebrate.
Our country just held a referendum on whether or not we would tolerate four more years with a liar, bigot, and charlatan at the helm, a man only too happy to oblige both the worst impulses of his followers, and the worst impulses of his own. Thanks to the fundamental sanity of the millions of Americans who don't make headlines and pivotal turnout by African-American voters in Georgia and Pennsylvania—along with Native Americans in Arizona, whom I don’t think are getting nearly enough credit—our country has said: No. We will not endure four more years of this man.
That itself is reason for hope. In a year where hope has been in short supply, I’ll take it.
Nathan Knapp's writing has appeared in 3:am, The Brooklyn Rail, The Times Literary Supplement and elsewhere. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Be Thankful ::: William DeVaughan
Changed The Locks ::: Lucinda Williams
Sly & The Family Stone ::: Thank U Falletinme Be Mice Elf
Wrap It Up, I’ll Take It :::: The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Peace In The Valley :::: The Swan Silvertones
There Must Be A Better World Somewhere ::: Dr John
Satisfied ::: The Harmonizers
That’s Enough :::: Mavis Staples & Billy Preston
A Satisfied Mind :::: Jeff Buckley
Peace Flows ::: Brandon Ross
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue ::: Them
Curse Go Back ::: William S Burroughs