Have you exhaled yet? So much of this election has felt like waiting by the phone for news of a loved one in the hospital—the knot in the pit of your stomach, the joyful reprieve, the renewed scare. I wanted to check in with the Mother Jones community to hear how you’re processing it all, and to share a bit of what we’re working on, because one of the most important things to remember in a moment like this is that we are not alone.
Right now, it feels like our democracy is off life support, but still in intensive care. Yes, authoritarianism was beaten at that ballot box, but all of our norms and institutions—including the peaceful transfer of power—are still vulnerable to attack, and we have a lot more work to do toward a vigorous, fair, robust democracy.
What we need for that to work is a lot of things, but one stands out to me: Hope. And so, in the past few days, I have been rereading, over and over, the words my kids’ classmates wrote in Zoom school about their hopes for the election:
I hope we can pass laws so that Black people are not harassed and killed.
I hope abortion is still legal when I grow up.
I hope I can see my grandmother again.
I hope my dad can come back into the USA.
I hope I can see my friends before my middle school years are over.
So much hope went into this vote. Hope that America would resoundingly repudiate what Donald Trump stood for, lift up those too long excluded from the halls of power, remake the political landscape for the long term. But also, and perhaps most of all, that America would simply clear the lowest of bars—that, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, “our democracy will live another day.”
That last hope was fulfilled—and that’s important to hold on to in this moment of chaos and obfuscation. Indeed, despite all the sand-throwing from the White House and beyond, 8 in 10 Americans (and 6 in 10 Republicans) are telling pollsters that Biden won the election, end of story. (Yes, that pollsters would even have to ask a question like that is a problem—but baby steps.)
What happened last week was an extraordinary civic achievement—record turnout in the face of a spreading pandemic and massive voter suppression, delivering unequivocal results up and down the ballot. And the organizing that delivered that achievement—across the nation, and especially in communities of color in critical states—is not going anywhere.
There are hopes that have been dashed, too, chiefly perhaps the hope that Republican leaders, who have surrendered to Trump on so much, would draw a line at interfering with a free and fair election. We won’t know for a while how far they are prepared to go, though there are signs that at least some of it is theatrics for the boss: “What’s the downside of humoring him?” one GOP official told the Washington Post.
What’s the downside? Oh, nothing, just a sucker punch to an already bruised democracy. You’d think these folks had learned nothing from the experience of creating monsters—the tea party, Trump himself—that they cannot control. Or perhaps, at this point, we should assume that they are, in fact, letting these Frankenstein creatures of fear and distrust loose on the world by design. As MoJo’s Ari Berman has noted:
There’s no reason to think any of the Trump campaign’s attempts to change the outcome of the election will work. The campaign has failed to stop the counting of votes in the five states—Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—where it has filed post-election litigation. Biden leads by 255,000 votes in these states. His 12,500-vote lead in the closest state, Georgia, is 23 times greater than George W. Bush’s margin of victory in Florida in 2000. A recount almost certainly won’t shift thousands of votes, nor are courts likely to throw out thousands of votes in multiple states where Biden leads.
But the frenzied attempt by Republicans to undermine the legitimacy of Biden’s victory could still have a big impact by laying the groundwork for the GOP to pass new voter suppression measures at the state level, targeting the voting methods that propelled Biden to victory.
In other words: It is, yet again, about minority rule. Biden and Harris are still headed to the White House, but it could become more difficult for Democrats to elect anyone else.
Unless, that is, this attack on democracy motivates a movement as powerful as the one we saw in Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and so many other places where the hard work of organizers—especially in communities of color—and the civic acts of millions overcame an onslaught of voter suppression and disinformation. How can that happen? Where are the greatest dangers to the progress people fought so hard to accomplish—and which of our leaders remain committed to minority rule, disenfranchisement, and lies? How do we get this patient off the critical list and out of the hospital?
I can’t tell you what organizers or politicians or lawyers need to do now (though we’ll be reporting on that intensely in the coming months). But in my work at Mother Jones, it’s my job to think about what we journalists should do. And for that, it’s important to hear from you in the Mother Jones community. Please let us know what you’re looking for below, because as a reader-supported news organization, your thoughts and priorities are incredibly important in shaping our work.
Here, to get things rolling, are some of the big issues we’ve been thinking about:
- Who built this: It is incredibly difficult to knock off an incumbent president, and to achieve record electoral turnout in a pandemic amid rampant voter suppression. How this came about and what we can learn for the hard work ahead is something MoJo reporters will keep digging into (read this inspiring pre-election story about how powerful organizing your friends can be)—especially in the run-up to the two Georgia special elections that could tip the Senate.
- The wreckage: MoJo’s editor-in-chief, Clara Jeffery, has warned of a “trash-out” end to Trump’s presidency, and we’re already seeing a purge in departments like the Pentagon. What will Trump grab or smash on his way out? Pardons, executive orders, attacks on immigrants and refugees, giveaways of the public’s property: It’s all on the table, and it won’t necessarily get the attention it needs. MoJo reporters will be all over this story.
- Extremists on the web and in the streets: Steve Bannon wants to behead Dr. Anthony Fauci; Roger Stone daydreams of hanging people “by the neck until dead“: Trump’s team did a lot to inject violent fantasies and conspiracy theories into the bloodstream of social media and even network news. And as those who study cults know, when a prophecy fails to come to pass, its adherents often dig deeper. We will chronicle the hatemongers, and how politicians and platforms enable them.
- Holding Democratic feet to the fire: Even without a Senate majority, Biden and Harris will have a lot of power to make good—or not—on their promises for action on racial justice and the climate crisis. Keeping an eye on how they do (and how their past IOUs, including Biden’s cozy relationship with credit card companies) will be critical.
- Covering overlapping crises: The pandemic and its economic fallout are ramping up, and that story isn’t playing out in Washington alone: It’s happening in places and communities where national news media doesn’t spend a lot of time, and local news has been eviscerated. Mother Jones can’t fill that void by ourselves, but our reporters will work hard to show how these crises are unfolding, who is being hurt the most, and what can be done to make things better on the ground.
And here are a few stories you can expect MoJo to leave to others:
- Endless interviews of Trump supporters in diners. It’s critical to understand why people vote the way they do—but not just one kind of voter. MoJo’s reporters will focus on some of the groups who don’t get the spotlight, as Becca Andrews did in this piece on her Tennessee hometown back in 2017.
- Laundering Trumpists’ reputations. Political journalism has a lot invested in normalcy, so we can expect plenty of stories in which authoritarianism’s enablers reflect on how they were trying to hold the line all along (and position themselves for cushy think tank or corporate jobs). You won’t see that here.
- Obsessing over political gossip. Dish is fun, but just because political professionals are consumed with high school level who’s-up-who’s-down doesn’t mean we have to be.
- And, of course, empty bothsidesism.
There was a lot of talk in the run up to the election of what the end of the presidential campaign would mean for newsrooms like ours. With so much focus on Trump these last four years, would people stop paying attention? I don’t buy it, and I don’t think those prognosticators know what Mother Jones and our community of readers are about. For 44 years now, we’ve investigated abuses of power no matter who’s in charge, and right now we’ve got our work cut out for us.
The next few weeks and months are not going to bring the full-on reprieve that many hoped for. But in the end, that’s no surprise. An aspiring authoritarian was never going to go out gently, and many experts predicted that Trump and his acolytes would engage in exactly the sort of flailing we are seeing now. But there are powerful forces standing in the way of their interference—the calm and steady work of election administrators, Democrats and Republicans, around the country; the convincing verdict delivered by voters; and the work all of us do now.
When working to beat an illness, one of the biggest comforts is sharing—knowing that others are making that same journey. That’s why we’d like to hear from you: Where are you with processing this election? What are you hoping for right now and what are you hoping gets left behind? Let us know. Because right now, it’s more important than ever to hold on to hope, and to use it to motivate action. We’ll share what we hear from you in a future post: