So far, the only people whose predictions have been proven right are those who said that we won’t know the results of the presidential race for days, if not weeks. And the only ones who can definitely throw out their crystal ball are those who predicted an election-night landslide for Joe Biden. Blowout? In the end, it may all come down to a few thousand votes in Nevada or Pennsylvania.
Perhaps the most unrealistic hope — or rather, fantasy — was that Nov. 3 would signal the country’s return to "normal" and we would be able to say, as President Gerald Ford did after Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, that "our long national nightmare is over."
Right now, things seem to be inching toward a Biden victory. But Donald Trump and his team are certain to keep the legal challenges going as long as they can — very possibly into January. We should not expect a gracious transition.
Assuming that Biden takes office, a large portion of the country will regard him as an illegitimate president smuggled into office by fraud, with the aid and collusion of the corrupt news media. If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, they may well try to investigate him for supposed wrongdoing in Ukraine and China. And, of course, hundreds of propaganda sites will continue to pump out disinformation. Claims that there are videos showing Biden’s son Hunter sexually abusing young children are already circulating. Under a Biden presidency, we can probably expect these sordid tales to escalate until Biden himself becomes the head of a secret international pedophile ring. (QAnon, the bizarre conspiracy cult which holds that Trump is battling such a ring behind the scenes, will have two Republican adherents in the next Congress. So much for normal.)
However, it would be much too comforting for anti-Trumpists to believe that all the derangement is on the other side. In the past four years, Democrats have been marinating in their own conspiracy theories — for instance, that Trump is literally a Russian operative (rather than just an amoral opportunist who was happy to benefit from Russian election interference) or that Kremlin agents literally rigged the election by hacking into voting machines. There is already some talk — so far, with no evidence — that Trump’s, and the GOP’s, better-than-expected showing in this election is the result of foreign shenanigans.
And let’s not forget other left-of-center extremes that have risen in the last four years, including in mainstream venues. Major media outlets have appeared to excuse riots during these past months’ protests against racism and police brutality. While Biden has repeatedly condemned protest-related violence as inexcusable, it is very likely that he suffered from the perception that the Democratic Party as a whole was soft on rioting.
Some of that perception was fostered by right-wing agitprop — but to some extent, it was also based on fact. A number of Democrats condemned police violence against peaceful protesters but had no such harsh words for violent protesters. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) told MSNBC that "there needs to be unrest in the streets." Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) deleted, under pressure from online activists, a tweet that condemned both police brutality and looting and property damage.
This is not "normal." Neither is a media climate in which the sizable share of Hispanic votes for Trump is blamed on white supremacy.
Trump and his fan base have played a destructive role in the polarization and hysteria of the culture wars. But it’s not a one-way street — and we should all look inward for our own contributions to the madness.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.