Column: With Biden in the lead, why aren't more Democrats dancing in the streets?

Virginia Heffernan
·5 min read
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- NOV. 5, 2020. Anti-Trump protesters dance outside the Philadelphia Convention Center, where counting of ballots for the 2020 presidential election continued on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Anti-Trump protesters danced outside the Philadelphia Convention Center as officials counted ballots inside Thursday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times )

As it’s become clear this week that Joe Biden might win the White House, Democrats have been taking the fantastic news as we usually do: with disappointment.

And I’ve been right there with them. The fact that even one person could still support Trump is horrifying. Tens of millions? Damned tragic. 

For the love of God, how in the world could Biden not even win Florida? With all those old people worried about COVID-19? Are voters insane?

And forget about the Senate. Mitch McConnell won again? Lindsey Graham beat the infinitely meritorious Jaime Harrison? The final two nails in the U.S. coffin.

I was brooding when a former Republican, the journalist Windsor Mann, intervened. He had voted for Biden — his first ever vote for a Democrat. He doesn’t yet know the folkways of the left.

“I am so tired of the 'I’m depressed' & 'this is a sad day for America' tweets," he texted first thing Wednesday morning. “I refuse to feel bad for saving our democracy.”

“Trump out of the White House. That’s what matters. It’s like liberals want to win hearts and minds more than they want to win elections.”

Good freaking point, Mr. Rock Ribs. Now let's hope the votes come in.

What Windsor put his finger on gets past a rehash of the observation that Dems are intrinsically self-defeating. Our wailing and gnashing of teeth arises from a long-standing reluctance to accept that politics is about campaigns, not movements.

The great American pragmatist Richard Rorty made the case for the former in a 1995 essay. When I first read it, I resolved to heed his cautions and accept its consolations for the rest of my days. But this week I forgot that resolution.

Rorty argued that those who want to improve the world must stop seeking "membership in a movement" and instead "throw themselves into lots of campaigns."

As movements, he cited Christianity, Marxism and nihilism. Movements are very cinematic. They deeply engage hearts, minds and Instagram. They promise infinite rewards — and require surrender and self-purification of the individual. But, Rorty wrote, movements are too amorphous to succeed or even to fail. Rather, they disperse, with some tributaries ending in a whimper, others in banality, and still others in Stalin.

Campaigns, on the other hand, don’t offer us possibilities like rebirth through Jesus Christ or the creation of Mao’s “new socialist man.” They aren’t packed with telegenic moments. Their strength, according to Rorty, is goal-oriented specificity, such as "the unionization of migrant farm workers in the American Southwest, or the banning of big trucks from the Alps, or the overthrow (by votes or force) of a corrupt government, or the legal recognition of gay marriage" — remember, it was 1995.

Best of all, campaigns have material deliverables. You know when they’re done. Losses can be notched, victories celebrated, even gloated over. By contrast, in movement politics, a campaign must always be subordinated to the Big Picture, a goal so all-encompassing that by definition it can never be fully realized.

Liberals are inveterate movement joiners. They see the promised land somewhere way, way, way off in the distance. And, even when success in a campaign seems close at hand, they brood on nothing but the infinite road ahead.

Enough with the perfect. Enough with sniveling.

As of this writing, Biden and Harris are likely to win a hard and momentous campaign, fought through the napalm clouds of Trump's poisonous and twisted holy war. They made it a clean and excellent fight, rousing a coalition of the decent, the disciplined and the clear-eyed who had never worked with so much solidarity before. It was a campaign, not a movement. And the coalition should inspire some awe: a massive American majority.

Here’s what we know if Biden’s lead holds: In a few months Trump won’t be in office. America's disgrace will start to fade, and its spirits will start to rebound. We won’t have to endure these loathsome people in power anymore: Bill Barr, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Don Jr., Mike Pence, Stephen Miller.

We can reenter the Paris climate agreement. Dr. Anthony Fauci will deliver the briefings on the pandemic. Our leaders will know their ABCs: Wearing masks works, systemic racism is real and the climate crisis is dire.

We won't hear from the mainstage about how, when you think about it, white supremacy is kind of cool. Or how bleach cures COVID. Or how HunterBidenBurismaQAnon gibberish is coming for your washing machine.

We can reunite with our allies as allies and address threats from our enemies.

As I write this, more and more extraordinary implications of a Biden presidency become obvious. Are we entering paradise? Of course not. But if we recognize what nonsense is behind Trump's desperate litigation threats, we will realize we are on the brink of closing out a very significant campaign. The one in which millions upon millions of American voters strategized, mobilized and peaceably voted out a tyrant.

I’d burst into tears of joy at the prospect, but my ex-Republican friend says wrong again.

“Spike the football. Gloat," Windsor told me.

I don’t have a football. But if Biden prevails, I'll blow out my sad sack “self-care” candle and open my front door and shout, “We won!” as loudly as possible into my heavily Trumpist neighborhood. I'll turn up Aretha Franklin.

I’m just getting started.

@page88

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.