Biden Won. But This Election Proves Just How Racist America Really Is

71 Million Americans Voted For Trump. Is White America Ready to Understand What That Really Means?

There’s a strange and difficult question that has to be asked in the wake of Biden’s victory over Trump. Do the numbers really say what they appear to? Does half of America really support hate?

It seems too ugly to be true. So the way that pundits often put it is this. “Half of Americans can’t be racists!!” The idea here is simply a kind of populist appeal to mass numbers — half of a country can’t be bad people!! Alas, quite the opposite is true. A cursory check of history tells us how much so. More than half a country can be racists, bigots, full of hate, and so forth. How much so? Think about apartheid South Africa — how much of its white population was racist? Think about those Asian societies which are still caste societies today. The examples are endless. But the best one is America itself.

Think back in history not so long ago — less than one human lifetime. America was still a segregated country. And yet it was a democracy. More than half its population believed in the idea that blacks and whites should be kept separate. Was segregation racism? Of course it was. It is more or less the canonical example of racism.

Now think about the struggle for gay rights. It was only recently in human history that things like gay marriage or even being out became socially acceptable and legally protected. Until then, much more than half a society was bigoted and prejudiced.

Think about how long it took for women to win the vote. That was an example of more than half a society — at least among men, this time — being badly misogynist and sexist.

Think about those parts of the world which are theocracies today. More than half the population supports the idea of religious law, which is usually itself made up of some combination of bigotry, stupidity, and hate.

So a glance at history tells us the way pundits frame the question — asking incredulously “But half a country can’t be…bad people!!” — is wrong. Badly wrong. Sure, half a country can be all kinds of terrible things — and throughout history, it often has been.This line of thinking is easy to demolish — just a moment’s reflection tells us how badly mistaken it is. And it sheds light on the mistake it makes, too.

So. Is half of America…racist? Let’s examine the question objectively. Not to cast aspersions — but simply to examine reality. Half of America or thereabouts — just under half — supports all the following things, which occurred during the Trump years. Kids in cages in camps — of only the “wrong” ethnicity. “Family separations,” which seem to be a crime against humanity, against of the “wrong” ethnicity. Demonization and scapegoating. Brutality and violence. Institutional dehumanization — the state working to deny the personhood of certain ethnic groups.

If I supported all those things, or at least turned a blind eye to them, would I be a racist?

Here, Ibram X Kendi’s way of thinking about racism comes in helpful. He says that not being a racist is about being anti-racist. That is, not just objecting to racism, in some abstract way, but being decisively against it. If we adopt that framework, then it should be easy to see that, for example, letting a President demonise minorities — and rationalising it away by saying, “Oh, he’s just talking crap” — badly fails the test of anti-racism.

If we look at reality, about half of America fell for the Big Lie. The one that fascism is based on — and always has been. Fascism, remember, in my telling of the story, isn’t just what the Nazis did to Weimar Germany. It is the America they studied, to model their race laws and hatred on. Fascism was born in America, in its centuries long genocide of Black people, in its annihilation of Natives, in its long, sordid history of hate.

The Big Lie that fascism — and racism is a kind of fascism — tells is this. Hated minorities are responsible for the woes of the majority. They bring impurity, corruption, filth, moral corrosion and social degeneration. The way back to “greatness” — which is what the majority, since they are pure and noble and true in blood, genetically superior — therefore is to annihilate or enslave minorities. The justification is that they are subhuman — less than persons. To cleanse them away is to purify a society in blood and virtue.

That was the story of America until 1971 — when segregation ended. White Americans don’t want to admit that — even liberal ones. But that is how illiberal white America is licensed to hate. Even the “good” white Americans don’t want to face the ugly truth of their country’s history. Until 1971 or so, it was the world’s biggest apartheid state. When I say that, they run away, trying to hide this fact under the rug. But hiding it that way only lets racism in America grow and fester. And not just racism — but all the other kinds of hate, too. Bigotry, prejudice, and so on.

Liberal white Americans need to understand a few things, therefore.

One, they are very much in the minority in their own social group, and yet they badly overestimate themselves. The majority of white Americans don’t just support hate — they support institutionalised hate, becoming the law of the land, the way society is run, its norms and values and codes and creeds. White liberals badly overestimate their numbers and cause.

That is why, two, when we minorities point out painful truths to them, they ignore it. But that too is a form of mild supremacism — the idea that the White always knows best, more, the most. White Americans need to understand that their social group is failing society, and failing it badly. How and why?

That brings me to point three. Even white liberal Americans are in denial about how bad the situation of race and colour and creed in America really is, how bad it’s history has been, and until how recently America has been a state run by and for hate. 1971 was the year America even attempted to become some kind of vaguely modern democracy.

Biden won. But America has not really had it’s reckoning with hate just yet. At least white America hasn’t. Let me try to sum up.

Can 71 million people be racists? Of course they can. That was the story of the entire Western world, more or less, until not so long ago. It’s not impossible for societies to be made of prejudice and hate and ignorance. Until very, very recently in human history, that was the norm. 20% of the world, the white Western part, went out and colonized, enslaved, and brutalised much of the rest — and much of that was driven by theories of how some races were superior to others.

It’s not nice to draw that conclusion. I understand why so many want to wriggle out of it, especially white American intellectuals. It’s a profoundly ugly and uncomfortable truth to hear, to bear, to carry.

Let’s ask the question a different way. To support the terrible things that happened during the Trump years — is that being a racist? If your kids were taken away, and put in cages, because of the colour of their skin — did you see any French people being put in the camps? Any Danish families being ripped apart? But if they were, and I said nothing, what would that make me?

If Trumpists aren’t racists, then surely the word holds no meaning whatsoever. Then a racist is only someone who actively, say, beats a person for the colour of their skin. Not someone who, say, cheers on a head of state calling for hated minorities to be beaten. And that is self-evidently ridiculous and illogical and absurd and morally repugnant.

To call the millions of Americans who support Trump racists is to understate the case. Many of them appear to also be prejudiced against any form of deviation from the mean, from being gay to women’s rights and so forth.

It’s more accurate to say that half of America is still hateful. 71 million people can be full of hate, and in this case, they are.

Again, let me stress this isn’t an insult. But rather a sad observation. Let me add some more context to it. To make the transition to being a society free of structural racism — or at least one that aspires to be — is one of the and fundamental aspects of modernization. When we say things like “America isn’t a modern society yet”, one of the things we mean is precisely that it’s not even a society whose white majority aspires to be rid of structural racism yet.

But that is not so odd. Around the world, racism is still very much a living evil, and so is bigotry. If you go to Asia, or Africa, for example, all kinds of racism prevail. Shades of skin become markers of social position and status, and differences in sexual orientation are verboten. Many of these societies are not yet modern in the sense that racism and bigotry are some of their key cultural values and social structures, too. They are illiberal, not yet mature and modern democracies. America is very much on this list.

But that’s not some kind of pronouncement of social doom or moral damnation, either. People can change. Their attitudes and values can grow and evolve. To say that someone is a racist isn’t to say that they will be one forever. The only way that societies mature and develop is when widespread social attitudes do.

Hate — in all its forms — is not something that’s fixed. It’s something that’s learned. It sounds like a cliche, but its true — when I was young, nobody hated me for the colour of my skin. That came later. We minorities all know that hate is something that’s learned, passed down from grandfather to grandson, and there is a time in a child’s life where, suddenly, they stop talking to their friends who they have been told are not like the, good for them, to be associated with anymore. Hate is a kind of ignorance, in other words.

Why does that matter?

To say that “71 million Americans still appear to be deeply hateful” isn’t an insult. It’s an observation. A grim one, to us minorities. One that affects us deeply — how do you live in a society that’s so hateful? How do you trust the stranger on the street? How do they feel about you, and what are they capable of? It’s an exercise in trauma — but I digress. It’s not an insult. It is a factual and empirical observation about levels of ignorance.

In America, white people — the majority — seem to be transmitting the same old cultural attitudes and values to their children. Those minorities aren’t like us. They’re dirty, impure, unclean. We’re the pure ones. This country belongs to us. They are less than us. Are they really people at all?

Trump might be gone, but Trumpism survives, among America’s white majority. I can’t redeem them. It’s not my job to make excuses for them, like pundits do, asking rhetorically, “But 71 million people can’t be racists, can they?!” Sure they can. The white majority was badly racist before 1971, and they appear not to have ever changed. That is because the intergenerational transmission of hate goes on and on, father teaching son, mother teaching daughter, how, why, and whom to hate.

Only White Americans can stop that. Only they can redeem themselves. The question is whether they want to.

The Trump Campaign’s Chaotic Closing Strategy

Its “election-security operation” has the potential to wreak havoc next week

Last month, Donald Trump Jr. squinted grimly into a camera — his hair slicked, his voice hoarse — and issued a call to arms for MAGA nation.

“The radical left are laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father,” he declared in a video posted to the Trump campaign’s Facebook page.

“Their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.” To defeat these scheming radicals, he warned, they’d need “every able-bodied man [and] woman” to join an organization called the Army for Trump: “We need you to help us watch them.”

Like so much of Donald Trump’s presidency, the recruitment video straddled the line between menacing and self-parodic.

Don Jr.’s claim was preposterous on its face (no, a massive voter-fraud conspiracy is not under way in America), and his militaristic rhetoric had the faintly silly quality of cosplay.

But the “election-security operation” he was pitching is actually a key element of the Trump campaign’s closing strategy — and its capacity to wreak havoc next week could be significant.

In the coming days, thousands of pro-Trump poll watchers are set to fan out across battleground states — smartphones in hand — and post themselves outside voting locations to hunt for evidence of fraud.

This “army” has been coached on what to look for, and instructed to record anything that seems suspicious.

The Trump campaign says these videos will be used in potential legal challenges; critics say their sole purpose is to intimidate voters. But in recent conversations with a range of unnerved Democrats and researchers, I was offered another scenario:

If the president decides to contest the election’s results, his campaign could let loose a blizzard of misleading, decontextualized video clips as “proof” that the vote can’t be trusted.

“The goal here is really not producing evidence that stands up for any length of time,” Laura Quinn, a progressive researcher monitoring election disinformation, said.

“They’re interested in sowing just enough doubt … to develop this narrative of fraud — not only so that he can contest the election, not only so that he can refuse to concede a loss, but also so that some portion of his supporters will remain embittered and be able to say the results were illegitimate.”

(A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.)

Partisan poll-watching has a long history in American politics — Trump did not invent it. But this is the first presidential election since 1982 in which the Republican National Committee is allowed to organize such activities without permission from a federal court.

For nearly four decades, the party was restricted by a consent decree issued after a New Jersey election in which Republicans allegedly hired off-duty police officers to patrol minority neighborhoods wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. The decree expired in 2018.

This history, combined with the president’s support among militias and other extremist groups, has fueled fears that the Army for Trump could lead to confrontation and even violence at the polls.

In September, a noisy crowd of Trump supporters was accused of intimidating voters and disrupting an early-voting location in Fairfax, Virginia.

(The Virginia Republican Party responded to these complaints on Twitter: “Quick! Someone call the waaaambulance!”)

But the poll watchers’ real influence may not be felt until they go home and start uploading their videos.

Three Democratic strategists who are involved in post-election “scenario planning” told me that — barring a blowout on Election Night — Americans should expect a last-ditch disinformation blitz from Trump and his allies to create the impression of wide-scale cheating. (The Democrats requested anonymity to candidly describe strategy discussions.)

“This Election Day poll-watching will be part of a whole campaign to dispute, delay, and bring into doubt the counts in various states,” one Democrat told me.

“[Trump] has been setting up the rigged-election narrative for a while,” another said, “and he needs tools to show that the votes that are rolling in are probably these rigged votes: So here’s the video evidence!”

Some of the Democratic hand-wringing had a slightly panicked, paranoid quality, rooted in the trauma of 2016.

“Will there be photos and videos purporting to be, for instance, Chinese intelligence agents stuffing ballot boxes?” one Democrat mused. “Probably, yes.

And even if the quality of these videos is poor and the provenance is suspect, they will have at least some audience.”

Of course, Trump could simply win or lose the race outright, without any of the drama that many are anticipating.

But it’s not far-fetched to expect a spike in unsubstantiated voter-fraud claims around Election Day.

Such rumors often gain traction in the final days of a presidential race — and Trump and his media allies have been especially invested in amplifying them this year.

Nate Snyder, who served as a counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security under Barack Obama, told me that if Trump contests the election results, things could quickly “converge into a perfect storm of disinformation.”

In the already-overheated political environment, foreign adversaries could circulate conspiracy theories online, while domestic trolls and extremist groups amplify their own toxic messages. Chaos would be the goal — and Snyder says United States intelligence agencies are preparing for it.

“But I’ll be pretty blunt about this,” he added. “We have a unique situation now where we have to worry about what we’d call, in security terms, an ‘insider threat.’

You have a president who is focused on pushing out whatever kind of information, from whatever sources, to help his narrative.”

It might not just be Russian trolls and “boogaloo boys” trying to “sow discord,” he said — the president himself may be part of that effort.

There are reasons to doubt the sophistication of Trump’s operation.

His campaign has hemorrhaged money this year, and suffered several high-profile logistical failures. (Remember Tulsa?)

A recent perusal of the #ArmyforTrump hashtag on Twitter revealed that it had been temporarily hijacked by K-pop fans.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, are skeptical that collecting and amplifying video “evidence” of voter fraud will actually benefit the president.

“Nothing has done more to bolster people’s faith in voting early and in person than videos of people perfectly happy to wait in line to vote Trump out of office,”

Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said. Prioritizing conspiracy theories over conventional get-out-the-vote efforts, he added, “would be consistent with every other incompetent Trump strategy.”

Still, if the Trump era has taught us anything, it’s that a well-oiled political machine isn’t necessary to cause chaos.

As I’ve written before, the most effective modern disinformation is defined by what scholars call “censorship through noise” — drowning out the truth with a barrage of lies, distortions, and conspiracy theories designed to confuse and exhaust.

“Bad actors aim to break down trust because it makes us insecure,” Jiore Craig, a researcher who advises Democratic campaigns on disinformation, said.

“When we’re insecure, we’re defensive, and when we’re defensive for a long time, we get tired — and when we’re tired, we’re easy to control.”

In her recent research suggests a level of fatigue in the electorate right now that could easily curdle into apathy, making it difficult to sort out truth from lies if the election becomes a long, complicated, drawn-out affair.

“The danger,” Craig said, “is that you just go with the loudest voice in the room to put it to an end.”

America’s On A Knife’s Edge

There are Four Ways the Election Can Go — and Three of Them End With Democracy Dying

If you’re anything like me, you’re weirdly bipolar these days. You veer between watching too much news — and turning it off, overwhelmed. You swing between despair and hope, dread and mania, panic, and perseverance. You oscillate wildly, and there seems to be little to no middle ground.

You’re not wrong. America’s on a knife-edge. So is civilization as we know it, but I digress.

What I mean by “America’s on a knife-edge” what this weird combination of feelings is trying to tell you is that in the upcoming days and months will be decisive, and yet anything can happen. That’s not a good thing, by the way.

Anything shouldn’t be able to happen in functioning society, a democracy, a civilized nation. An aspiring authoritarian shouldn’t order shock troops to beat and gas people in the streets. A President shouldn’t be able to spread the pandemic he pretended didn’t exist, then caught, then struggled with, to his fanatical base. And what could happen next shouldn’t have any chance of happening whatsoever.

There are four scenarios I can see unfolding in the upcoming election. 

What “anything can happen” means is precisely what it says. It’s futile to try and assign probabilities to these scenarios. It is now in a period of genuine uncertainty, meaning that risk itself is beyond quantifiability. Sure, we can guess — but that’s about all we can do. We can’t say something like, “there’s a 90% chance Trump loses,” the situation America’s in now is abnormal, so it makes a mockery of the very idea of normality, which statistics are based on.

So. The scenarios.

The first is this. Trump loses the popular vote and the electoral college. The margin is overwhelming. 

By the way, the best scenario of all — and yet even this one is still not that good, still profoundly abnormal. If all that comes to pass, what will he do? He’ll probably contest the results anyway. He’ll call democracy into question — just like he’s been doing, harder and harder for the last few months even if Trump loses — especially if he loses.

Not because he has any real chance of winning, but for psychological, cultural, and political reasons. To save face and exact revenge, and mollify his ego. To prove what a big man he is. Also, keep his movement alive as long as he can, even if it means politically martyring himself. All that will throw American democracy into turmoil, regardless — what happens if a President refuses to concede? In short, something like a Constitutional crisis ensues.

Probably, even in this scenario, the GOP will back Trump. 

Sure, they’ll look like fools, but when has that stopped them before? Their behavior pattern is clear — to place power above any norms or rules or codes of conduct or decency. So if Trump refuses to concede, expect some large part of his party and base to back. To what, though? To the brink.

And so even in the best scenario, there are likely to be challenging months of turmoil ahead. It’s not unthinkable to foresee Trump’s fanatical base growing more violent and extreme the closer they come to finally losing their grip on power, not to mention being egged on by him. So even in this scenario, the chances of political violence and unrest are still high.

The second scenario goes like this. Trump loses the popular vote and the electoral college. But the margin is slender. 

And now the strategy that the GOP has so carefully, assiduously put in place over the last years and decades, finally pays off. Legal challenges, one after the other, which have been prepared, erupt at a granular level: city, town, state by state. Ballot after ballot, vote after the vote is contested. Recounts are demanded; the legitimacy of the election, in short, is thrown into severe and serious question. The results are left to the courts to decide. And because the GOP has focused heavily on stacking and tilting courts hard to the right, that favor is repaid. The courts determine Trump’s election, all the way up to the Supreme Court, which makes the final decision.

But even the road there is long and arduous. 

Chaos reigns for months while ballots are counted and recounted. Legal case after case is fought, in a kind of war of attrition, which takes time. Meanwhile, America has no real President. No leadership. Amid at least four concurrent crises, a pandemic, a major recession, a disintegrating society, and an imploding middle class.

Those months are best summed up in one word: chaos. 

Trump supporters hold rallies in the streets, where they mock and taunt their opponents. Violence and unrest become everyday events. Nobody quite knows who is in charge of what, and so the rule of law begins to break down in even more brutal ways. Militia and paramilitaries and whatnot make even more extreme and violent plans to eradicate the opposition — like kidnapping Governors — and carry them out, or at least try to. American life goes right to the edge of a hardcore failed state. 

What happens then? Then the back of American democracy is finally broken. 

It was one thing when the Supreme Court handed the Presidency to George W Bush. 

It’s quite another to hand it, Donald Trump, for a second term. Trump has a pattern of authoritarian fascist behavior, from camps to raids to purges to bans to his paramilitary disappearing people. 

The Supreme Court will have effectively legitimized and licensed that.

Americans will begin to understand that they don’t live in a democracy. 

And while it’s noble to idealize ideas of resistance and so forth, the truth is that once the back of democracy is broken, people tend to become demoralized, dispirited, and defeated. Even in this scenario, which is the second-best one, Trump lost both popular and electoral college votes. Still, the election decided for him by courts. American democracy is at severe risk.

The third scenario is where things begin to get really grim. In this one, Trump loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college. 

He doesn’t need the courts. He doesn’t need to contest the results. He wins outright. How might this come to pass? You should already know: by convincing electors to go against the norm of voting for the preference of the people they represent. To say that “there’s voter fraud, you can’t trust these votes!! You should give your electoral college vote to us; instead, if you want to save democracy!!

It’s clever. You almost have to admire it: like any right authoritarian approach, it twists reality inside out. The only way to protect democracy from alleged “voter fraud” is…to vote for the authoritarians. Never mind that there is no voter fraud — when has reality ever mattered in American politics?

Pundits are underestimating this scenario’s potential to set American democracy on fire. If even a handful of electors are agreeable — or gullible or corrupt — enough to get on board, that’s game over.

There are rules and norms they’re supposed to follow, true. And there might even be legal challenges if electors don’t vote the way the popular vote in their state has gone. But those will come after the fact.

When a new head of state has already been installed, what chance do they have to succeed? Significantly when the highest courts have already been tilted?

This is incredibly clever also because it attempts to cut democracy away at its very feet. The electoral college is the Achilles heel of American democracy, its greatest weakness. Targeting it is how to get maximum leverage for minimum effort.

What happens if all this succeeds? Even more unrest and violence. 

It’s not much of a stretch to say that many Americans would feel cheated because they would be fooled. There would likely be riots in city after city. And guess what that would invite? Crackdowns from Trump’s shock troops, who’d be called in to do what they did in Portland (where one of my cousins lives) and Chicago and elsewhere: to beat, gas, and disappear protesters.

America would have crossed the brink into real authoritarianism. 

And things would only get worse from there. If the shock troops are beating and disappearing people on day one, what do you think they’ll be doing on day 365 of a four-year term? How much likelihood do you give another election? In this scenario, American democracy ceases to function, its legs chopped off. And this isn’t even the worst one yet.

That brings me to the worst one. Trump wins the popular vote and the electoral college. 

You might think that’s unlikely — but I don’t necessarily mean outright. And I don’t mean that Trump “wins.” I mean that the election is manipulated enough so that he doesn’t lose.

I mean, after all the counts and recounts and so forth are done, Trump emerges victorious. Imagine that the allegations of voter fraud are successful — successful enough to have enough ballots thrown out, especially in crucial areas, to give Trump an outright victory. Biden’s margin is chipped away at, by the day, until suddenly, Trump is the winner.

What happens then?

This is the Belarusian scenario. 

Did you see what happened there? A head of state “won” an election that people considered corrupt. So mass protests erupted. They lasted weeks.

But it was too late.

The protests go on, but their spirit, it seems, has been broken. They are petering out slowly. Masked men abduct and beat moms and grandmas in public. Sound familiar? It should. Americans should take a lesson from what happened in Belarus.

Mass protests after an authoritarian seizes power are usually too late. 

They can express anger and fury and rage and disappointment — even from the vast majority. But the authoritarian controls the levers of power. He controls the institutions of the state, from law enforcement to internal security to courts and justice. And so no matter if even a massive amount of people are out on the streets protesting — it’s all too easy for an authoritarian to send shock troops out to intimate and brutalize them. Authoritarians aren’t scared of such a thing; by the way, they relish it: it proves how powerful they are.

In this scenario, Americans finally begin to understand what authoritarianism is. 

It is precisely what is referred to euphemistically as “minority rule.” It means that most people — usually by a long way — don’t want any of this to happen, don’t want to live this way, and don’t consent. But their voices no longer matter because they were silent too long. They are brutalized and repressed and silenced and subjugated. Protest carries no meaning, and speaking up is a thing that comes with severe consequences.

Authoritarianism doesn’t mean what many Americans seem to think it does: society’s democratic choice to consent to dictatorship. It means that the majority of people don’t approve, but that no longer matters. It means that the majority want democracy but don’t get to have one any longer.

That’s the grimmest scenario. And yet it has every chance of coming true, too. 

These are abnormal times, and neither statistics nor polls tell us very much. It could be that — just like last time — all those nice, polite soccer moms and suburban dads who said they’d never vote for Trump go right ahead and, in the heat and secrecy of the polling booth…do. It could be that they don’t, but it doesn’t matter because there weren’t enough of them. It could be that they reject Trump en masse. But all those alleged strategies to subvert the election, from legal challenges to arm-twisting electors — count more and pay off bigger.

Anything can happen now. That means: I’d give each of the four scenarios above roughly equal odds. That’s not a good thing. It’s a terrible one because three out of those four scenarios end with American democracy dying, whether slow or fast or suddenly. That means that overall, thinking it through, we arrive at this. There’s roughly a 75% chance that American democracy goes into cardiac arrest, dies on the table, or before it reaches the hospital. Or just a 25% chance that it survives what a lasting and severe heart attack is.

Let me put that another way. Democracy is not a place where anything should be able to happen. It should be a place where we know what we can’t. 

But we don’t. And that is precisely why the authoritarians are winning: they thrive on the chaos uncertainty brings.

This is your last chance. These are the last warnings available to us. You could be living in a failed state like Russia meets Iran, with fascists and “handmaids” as the arbiters of justice and freedom, faster than you know, in the blink of an eye. That is not hyperbole — it is a grim and terrible fact.

After reading “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I feel that I understand the authoritarian government and how ugly it can and will be.

Trump might be on the ropes, but that doesn’t mean what you think it does. 

The chances for American democracy are not good. That means: it’s up to all of us to change them. So on November 3, 2020, please go and vote.