Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Nov. 3: Biden leads in the Electoral College, while Trump claims victory. Republicans appear to hold control of the Senate. Democrats retain control of the House.  A federal judge orders the U.S. Postal Service to search for misplaced absentee ballots in battleground states and states with tight deadlines for counting mail-in votes.

From the Cutting Room Floor...

I found myself in the middle of that “red ocean,” volunteering a at polling site in rural Alabama today. Yes, this was on purpose.

Well before noon, more people had voted there than ever before. The line re-formed to the same extent in the afternoon and evening, snaking between pick-ups and Jeeps in the school parking lot. Unlike the rural north, about 20-25% of the voters and poll workers here were African American. Everyone was respectful. Everything went smoothly after a few technology-related mishaps at 7am. Over 90% of people wore masks. Many of the fears foisted upon me by well meaning but sheltered, supposedly liberal friends from the coasts about the bigoted, violent Trump supporter were dead wrong.

Dozens of people approached me with questions throughout the day, holding their scantron ballot out to me. The vast majority went like this: “Can you help me find the one for Republicans?” “Which one says ‘Trump’ on it?” “If I vote straight Republican, can I put an extra vote for Trump?” “If I just fill in the ‘Elephant’ bubble, I vote for Trump, too, right?” And, my favorite, “How I can vote them ‘demon-crats’ out of office?!” I would estimate one in fifty voters asked me or another person at the polling place a question along these lines. Most of these question askers seemed so illiterate or unfamiliar with the ballot system in general that they couldn’t locate “Republican” or “Trump” on the ballot.

This is what democracy looks like. That’s what we shouted in the streets this summer, in support of Black Lives Matter. But democracy also looks like this. And by the end of the night, Trump—impeached, never rising above 50% approval ratings during his entire tenure, the leader who never bothered to stop promoting himself to manage this pandemic that will soon kill a quarter of a million Americans—earns the second highest vote total for any president. This is what democracy currently looks like.

Pundits are spinning yarns about what Biden and the Dems did wrong. I wish they would spend their time listening to Trumpians instead. The Hillbilly Elegy, a phrase coined by J.D. Vance, suggested that there was something that was lost that poor rural whites wanted to gain back —something that Trump and the GOP could deliver. On the one hand, Trump promised a renewed sense of national pride, a return of working-class jobs in the mines and factories, and an end to hand-outs for people who don’t want to work. On the other hand, the rudeness and bullying and cruelty reflected the existential despair, rapaciousness, lack of empathy, and resignation to the inevitable social rot of life that is also indicative of American culture. [1] That’s exactly why so many white people voted for him in 2016.[2] 

The deep narrative of the progressive left is about striving for more than the status quo: more equity, more inclusion, more progress, more fairness. But if you believe, as so many do, that happiness and access to comfort come in a limited supply—if you believe that, in order for one person to be content, others must suffer and be disappointed, like you feel sometimes—then you are not going to advocate for more equity, progress, or fairness. Think about it. Parts of American culture teaches us that fairness is for dupes, that we must scrap and crawl our way over the heads of the people around us if we want to get ahead. That could be the unfortunate flip-side of America’s much lauded innovative optimism. Progress for others seems dangerous because it will most likely come at one’s own expense. The utter failure of evangelical Christianity in the buckle of the Bible belt to challenge this mentality—to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”—is another issue worth debating along these lines.[3]

The good news is that the predicted violence did not materialize. Governor Gretchen Whitmer did have to intervene when robocalls in Flint, Michigan attempted to mislead presumably African American, Democrat-leaning voters away from the polls. The bigger news is the unprecedented level of mail-in voting that has happened this year. The Postal Service just said it wouldn’t abide by a court order to sweep its facilities for ballots that had not yet been postmarked.[4] As people worried well before the election, the cuts at the USPS will lead to some ballots being delayed, possibly not counted at all, most likely in large cities, which tend to vote Democrat.[5]

By 8pm Eastern, polls seem to show a Biden lead in key states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and even Florida and Ohio.[6] Exit interviews crow “Biden makes gains with key demographics compared to 2016.” Large crowds cheer near Lafayette Square—the site of the infamous St. John’s Church photo in June. And even usually skeptical Democratic journalists, such as Virginia Heffernan of Trumpcast, speak hopefully about watching friends and neighbors, once “hijacked by Fox News,” abandoning the GOP. Already it is clear that, just as when Hillary Clinton faced Trump four years ago, the final popular vote will eventually show a lopsided Biden win. But, given our strange Electoral College system, it does not mean that Biden has won.

As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist paper 68, written in 1788, a group of founders created our Electoral College to offer the semblance of honoring the will of the people while simultaneously cutting off the possibility that mass appeal by one candidate alone could carry the day.[7] Indeed, this was one way to ensure the support for the Constitution by states with smaller populations. By the elections of 1796 and 1800, however, the Electoral College, the 3/5ths Compromise, and the 12th Amendment slanted political power decisively toward enslaving states.[8]

By 2020, 232 years of America’s “plurality single-member district” political system places nearly all the weight for presidential elections on the shoulders of around 10% of the states. And, though slavery has been abolished, the Electoral College continues to weight the presidency and the Senate heavily toward more rural, whiter states and against America’s more diverse urban areas.[9] This system might actually be functioning precisely as it was designed; perhaps it’s the intentions behind the design that should be reexamined and discarded like so much racist trash—on our way to actually redesigning the system.

By 9pm, as wards and counties tabulate votes cast in person, that centuries-old bias built into the Electoral College become clear yet again. Overwhelmingly, Trump supporters showed up in person today, choosing to believe that the coronavirus is not that severe and mail-in balloting is suspect. One by one, so-called battleground states, like Ohio and Florida, as well as Texas—for a time it seemed like the Lone Star State would go for Biden—drifted into the Trump column. Thanks to the Electoral College, record numbers of votes for Democrats in solidly Republican parts between the coasts are for naught, just as Republican votes in New York, Massachusetts, or California count for little. As the night goes on, the tally of votes for Biden/Harris grows overall. There are a few battleground states that  look to be on the verge of flipping away from Trump, but nothing is certain. The despair from the left that this will be a repeat of 2016 becomes palpable.


[1] J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York, NY: Harper, 2016); Thomas Ferguson, “Economic Anxiety Fueled Trump’s 2016 Victory,” The Real News Network, November 7, 2018,

[2] Ferguson, “Economic Anxiety Fueled Trump’s 2016 Victory”; Brad Schiller, “Op-Ed: Why Did Trump Win? The Economy, Stupid,” Los Angeles Times, November 9, 2016,

[3] Michael Gerson, “Opinion | Some White Evangelicals Are Difficult to Recognize as Christians at All,” Washington Post, August 15, 2019,; Rev. Michael McBride, “The Last Holdouts: White Evangelical Christians, Why Can’t You See?,” The Root, August 18, 2019,; Emma Green, “The Unofficial Racism Consultants to the White Evangelical World,” The Atlantic, July 5, 2020,

[4] Jacob Bogage and Christopher Ingraham, “USPS Data Shows Thousands of Mailed Ballots Missed Election Day Deadlines,” Washington Post, November 4, 2020,

[5] Zack Budryk, “USPS Has Back-to-Back Days of Delivery Delays Ahead of Election,” The Hill, November 1, 2020,

[6] CBS News estimates North Carolina and Ohio are toss-ups,” CBS, “Florida and Pennsylvania are toss-ups, CBS News estimates,” CBS, 

[7] Alexander Hamilton [“Publius”], “Founders Online: The Federalist No. 68, [12 March 1788],” National Archives (University of Virginia Press, March 12, 1788),

[8] Akhil Reed Amar, “The Troubling Reason the Electoral College Exists,” Time, October 29, 2020,

[9] John Templon, “The Electoral College Still Favors White Voters,” BuzzFeed News, October 28, 2020,

Read more

“FOX NEWS -ELECTION NIGHT 2020 (10:00 P.M E.T-1:00 A.M E.T),” JFK1963 Newsvideos, November 3 coverage (Nov. 12, 2020 posting),

(Arizona call is at 1 hour 20 minutes)

“Sarah Sanders discusses Trump wins in key battleground states,” Fox News, November 3, 2020,

“Interview: Donald Trump Calls In to Fox and Friends for an Interview,” Fox News,  November 3, 2020,


Burton, Tara Isabella. “The Biblical Story the Christian Right Uses to Defend Trump.” Vox, March 5, 2018.

Gerson, Michael. “Opinion | Some White Evangelicals Are Difficult to Recognize as Christians at All.” Washington Post, August 15, 2019.

McBride, Rev. Michael. “The Last Holdouts: White Evangelical Christians, Why Can’t You See?” The Root, August 18, 2019.

County Clerk. “Election Summary Report, November 3, 2020 – General Election.” Wayne County, Michigan: Wayne County Clerk, November 3, 2020.!electionsum_11032020.pdf.
Jay, Jonathan, Jacob Bor, Elaine O. Nsoesie, Sarah K. Lipson, David K. Jones, Sandro Galea, and Julia Raifman. “Neighbourhood Income and Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States.” Nature Human Behaviour, November 3, 2020, 1–9.

Gandhi, Monica. “Death Rates Have Fallen by 18% for Hospitalized COVID–19 Patients as Treatments Improve.” The Conversation, November 3, 2020.

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