Cracked Actor

On the day of Trump’s inauguration I posted a black flag here in mourning for American democracy, fearful for what would come: fears I elaborated in November 2016 and February 2017. In the four years since, I’ve posted occasional links and short pieces about the U.S., but have mostly written about the U.K.’s own slide into right-wing irrelevance. This, after all, is the polity I’m part of; analysing the details of Trump’s malfeasance seemed better left to Americans.

But like much of the world outside America, I’ve been watching closely, mainly by following news reports and analysis online. It’s easier to read about him than to watch or listen to TV and radio news reports about him, because I can’t stand listening to the man speak for more than a few seconds; even hearing his apologists on Radio 4 has me reaching for the off button.

For the past week, then, I’ve been checking reliable sources on Twitter and a string of election threads at Metafilter, as the predicted red mirage of Tuesday, when mainly Republicans voted in person on the day, gave way to the blue tide of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as Democrat-leaning mail-in and early in-person votes were counted in key states. Yesterday, at last, Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s victory became undeniable, to everyone on earth except Trump, his apologists, and too many of his seventy million voters.

It’s been a weekend for celebration, then, as a genuinely decent man and the first woman on a winning presidential ticket have defeated a narcissistic sociopath and his appalling hangers-on at the polls, overcoming the obstacles put in their way by deliberate voter suppression. The historic moment of Harris’s election, in particular, doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed by Trump’s denial of electoral reality, or by reckonings with his legacy.

But Trump’s refusal to concede defeat could yet shatter this brief moment of joy and relief. Although more of America’s and the world’s media seem finally to have found the proper word to describe his podium ravings and tweets (that word being lies), for the next seventy-odd days he still wields all the power of his position, and can do who knows what further damage to his country and the world. Scholars of authoritarianism, and his own niece, are warning of the dangers of this moment, and of the need not to let down our guard. Although it’s tempting to think of the Trump era as being already over, there are enough loopholes in America’s constitutional arrangements, and enough of his allies and appointees in positions of power across the country, to make it possible that it isn’t yet. If Trump manages to cling onto power after this electoral defeat, what follows will be as bad as if he’d won; whether or not he does, his toxic ideology will live on in millions.

Personally, I’ll wait for Biden’s inauguration before posting a repaired red, white and blue. For now, we can only glimpse it through the cracks—but at least we can glimpse it.

Stars, Stripes, and Cracks

8 November 2020 · Politics