Facebook is criticized for a lot of things—often quite justly—but it does provide a valuable service at times. One of those times was Saturday morning, November 7, when all the major news organizations declared Joe Biden the next president of the United State, four days after Election Day. If you didn’t live in a neighborhood where the streets filled with impromptu celebrations—or if you were too vulnerable to the coronavirus to go out and participate—you could at least join the revels on Facebook.
Your friends from across the country were posting cellphone videos of the street parties springing up in every city. Others were posting .gif memes of happy dances. Myself, I posted the scene of the Munchkins singing “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz. Facebook was our virtual town square where we could share our joy and relief after four days of worry.
By the following week, however, sobriety began to set it. True, one witch was dead, but the flying monkeys were still circling overhead. Biden’s win was narrower than the polls had predicted (though within the predicted margin of error) and the Democrats’ confidence about taking the Senate wilted as Susan Collins, Thom Tillis and Joni Ernst retained their seats against most projections and common sense.
Now the Dems’ hopes for the Senate come down to the unlikely prospect of winning two run-offs in Georgia. There were losses in the House of Representatives and stalemate in state legislatures. Thus the Republicans will get to refine their gerrymandering of districts in Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
A lot of columnists wrote that America had escaped the greatest threat to democracy since the Civil War. It would have been more accurate to say that America lived to fight another day. If there was any hope that the anti-democratic forces had been chastened, it evaporated as the Republicans tried to overturn the election by arguing without evidence that Black and Latino votes in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit and Phoenix were fraudulent and should be discarded. It was as if the Republicans were saying, “It’s okay for non-White Americans to vote, but it’s not okay for those votes to decide anything.”
It wasn’t the self-parodying tweets by Donald Trump himself nor the embarrassing legal arguments by Rudy Giuliani that should worry us, for they will soon be back in private life. What should bother us is the tacit support of this attack on the Constitution and racial minorities by Republicans who are still serving in the Senate, the House and governor mansions across the nation. Trump will soon be out of the White House, but Trumpism is still active at all levels of government.
A tornado of Covid-19 viruses may have landed our house on the Wicked Witch of the East, but we still have the Wicked Witch of the West to contend with. Witch rhymes with Mitch; Kentucky is West of Mar-a-Lago, and Senator McConnell is an obvious stand-in for the other evil autocrat of Oz. In fact, it can be plausibly argued that Republican majority leader has done more damage to the United States over the past four years than the president himself.
After all, Trump was reactionary but incompetent. If you read the Mueller Report carefully, it’s clear that the Trump campaign wanted to collude with the Russians but could never quite make it work. McConnell, by contrast, is reactionary and competent. He has stacked the nation’s judiciary with trolls who will be ruling against democracy for decades, and for months he blocked a second Covid Relief package that might have saved thousands of businesses from bankruptcy and millions of renters from eviction.
There’s a chance that McConnell will no longer be majority leader by Inauguration Day. If the Democrats can sweep the two run-off Senate elections in Georgia, that would give them 50 votes in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking 51st vote. But it’s a long shot. The Republicans got more votes in the first round, and Georgia has a history of tilting further to the right in special elections than in regular elections. But maybe, somewhere over the rainbow, Stacey Abrams will work her turnout magic one more time, and blue voters as well as bluebirds will fly.
If Abrams falls short, it will be a long slog up the yellow-brick road for the next four years. Biden will be inheriting a once-in-a-century health crisis, a shattered economy and a divided, distrustful citizenry. If this sounds familiar, remember that the Reagan-Bush regime left behind a debt-laden, high-unemployment economy and a shredded safety net. Bill Clinton not only put people back to work but also balanced the budget.
Eight years later, the second Bush left behind a Great Recession on the brink of total collapse. Obama not only pulled us back from the abyss but also gave us a taste of national health care and a recovery that Trump claimed credit for. McConnell fought Obama every inch of the way, and he’s seemingly prepared to do so again.
If the Democrats are going to reach the Emerald City of reinforced national health care, full employment, climate healing and racial justice, they’ll need to stay united. The scarecrows of the party’s moderate wing will need to find their brains; the tin men of the party’s left wing will need to find their hearts, and the cowardly lions of the party’s establishment will need to find their courage.
They’ll need enough brains to figure out that bringing the country back to “normal,” back to the pre-Trump status quo of income inequality, implicit bias and worsening climate is insufficient; we need a truer democracy than that. They’ll need enough heart to empathize with the neediest families who need even an incremental improvement in daily life. They’ll need enough courage to call out McConnell’s attempts to repackage legislative blackmail as bipartisanship. When he thrusts a burning torch toward a centrist scarecrow, Nancy “Dorothy” Pelosi must be ready with a pail of water that might lead to a senatorial meltdown.
We do need to talk across the ideological divide. Progressives and centrists need to respect each other even as they air their differences. They need to find a common ground around the right of each American family to affordable health care and education, a middle-class wage, equal opportunity and protection and a stable climate—and then compromise on the tactics to get there. Only then can we confront a reactionary right willing to sacrifice all these items on the altar of corporate profits, white supremacy and unrestrained individualism.
We have a long way to go, so don’t allow the poppy fields of smug satisfaction and despair to put us to sleep before we reach the Emerald City. Because, when we get there, when we reach that promised land, there will be even bigger street parties on Facebook.