What happened in this election?
We've had several very close elections in my lifetime. 1968 was one. The 2000 election, obviously. And 2004.
But this one was more fraught — 49/49 and some change for each candidate in most of the swing states. It was more fraught than '68, which was a terrible year of hope, violence and lost hope.
What happened here?
Why were the pollsters even more wrong than four years ago or 1980?
One obvious answer is that 50/50 is just who we are — since 1968. We are a closely and deeply divided country.
And the obvious lesson is that we must learn to live together, and live with our differences.
The second answer is the "shy" Trump voter. This is real. Most of us know it from our own observation, lives and families.
There are so many people, including young people, who kept their intended vote to themselves, not because they felt ashamed or guilty but because they don't want to fight, or be socially isolated or humiliated.
This is an old American tradition, and an honorable one: I keep my vote to myself. But there is more of this in the Trump age. "Given the abuse I know will rain down upon me, let's talk about something else."
But I want to suggest a third explanation: The centrist voter's reservations about, and revulsion at, the left.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an ardent liberal Democrat and aide to President John F. Kennedy, wrote a whole book on "the vital center." It's just about gone.
And for a lot of moderate voters, the far right and the far left are both terrifying.
Moreover, for some traditional Democratic voters, the direction the Democratic Party is moving is alienating and scary.
And that's a big part of what happened to the Biden landslide.
Maybe that essentially centrist voter cannot stand Donald Trump personally. Or maybe that voter's problem is the norm breaking — a president who openly undermines the electoral process itself. (Kennedy undermined the electoral process in 1960 and Richard Nixon did in 1972, but both did what they did covertly). Yet that voter plunked for Trump anyway.
I believe it is the party's increasing embrace of leftist values over traditional liberal and Democratic values: the movement from empowering individuals to collectivizing them as claimants or dependents.
There are a great many people who want to save and build on Obamacare, save and build on Social Security and want Americans in poverty to have a shot at higher education, but who nonetheless are deeply disturbed by defunding the police, bully boys accosting Pittsburghers in a downtown restaurant just for existing, the shutting down of free speech, especially on campus, and the attempted obliteration of large parts of history.
The Democrats have been increasingly embracing the woke and abandoning the liberalism of Truman and Roosevelt.
Instead of advocating integration and opportunity, which are liberal ideas, they continually expand entitlement and racialize choices and outcomes in history, law and politics, which is woke.
Instead of a jobs or infrastructure program, or both, the woke embrace free college and universities with zero intellectual diversity — colleges in which a prof who reads "Huck Finn" aloud is "canceled."
Instead of trying to build a coalition of poor white and poor Black people, as Robert Kennedy tried to do, poor whites are typed as ignorant deplorables, and worse.
Leftism is the politics of subtraction, not addition, and litmus tests (abortion is the top one) rather than bridge building.
Most voters, including many Democratic voters, don't want to be woke, any more than they want to be Trumpies. They are repulsed by leftism, because it is all about virtue signaling and optics and showing who is the right kind of person and who is the wrong kind of person. Subtraction, not addition.
Joe Biden was nominated for and won the presidency precisely because he was not a lefty. He failed to get the big vote, a mandate and (so far) a Democratic Senate, because he didn't necessarily seem strong enough to stand up to the anointed.
Centrist voters, including centrist Democrats, prefer Harry Truman to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Martin Luther King to Al Sharpton, Eleanor Roosevelt to Lady Gaga.
To them, Trump's vulgarity and failure to play by the rules is bad, very bad. But so is the woke culture, in which politics is the ultimate realm of meaning and whose side you are on is the ultimate test of friendship, character and human value.
Keith C. Burris is editor, vice president and editorial director of Block Newspapers. This piece was written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.