After nearly four years of President Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, many of us hoped to breathe a collective sigh of relief this morning. At the very least, we expected to know whether we would need to steel ourselves for four more years. As it turns out, we’re going to have to wait a little longer.
We owe this ambiguity to this year’s abnormal election cycle. The massive shift toward mail-in and early voting has revolutionized — and confused — what it means to participate in American democracy. Thanks to Republican-led voter suppression and inadequate voting infrastructure, we now face what could prove to be the most contentious post-election period since the Civil War.
The Editorial Board has spent four years exposing Trump’s failures, criticizing his lies and desperately opposing his reelection because we know that we deserve better than the destruction he has wrought on this country. He and his ilk have separated migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, facilitated an epidemic of mass shootings, encouraged militant white nationalism and allowed COVID-19 to kill roughly 233,000 Americans. This election was, and still is, our best chance to stand up and tell him that we will stomach no more.
Given the gravity of this election, we understand that after enduring rank cruelty and corruption for years, yesterday’s incomplete results may feel like an unbearable letdown. Expressing frustration and anxiety ahead of the chaos is perfectly reasonable. Years of painful effort finally came to a head yesterday, only to prolong our struggle to evict from office the man whom the Brookings Institution fellow Thomas Wright has aptly named our “mad king.”
If you’re angry, we get it. So are we.
Yet voting has ended. All of the ballots that will either reaffirm or reject Trump’s hold on our democracy have already been cast. From an electoral point of view, all we can do is wait. Major news outlets have already called some states with certainty, Indiana, Florida and Virginia among them, and we have partial results for others. The rest will come soon enough, and many of the most consequential states should arrive within days. Michigan and Pennsylvania expect to call a victor by Friday and Wisconsin could report a result as early as today. It wasn’t last night, it might not be today and it may very well not be this Friday, either, but we will know soon enough who will occupy the White House for the next four years. The waiting game has begun and our job now is to play it the right way.
However, this relies on faith that states will count ballots correctly and impartially. The Republican Party’s efforts to use the courts as instruments of voter suppression and their desperate lawsuits filed in recent days indicate a willingness to fight dirty when they feel in danger of losing. Those initiatives might even reach the Supreme Court. Just like the 2000 election through Bush v. Gore, the Court may very well decide this election by either indirectly ruling on the validity of mail-in ballots or directly by deciding a suit between the two candidates. Be ready for protracted, bitter legal battles over the results as they come in.
Both in and out of the courts, we should expect a torrent of misinformation. Precedent tells us that each side in an election has an incentive to represent itself as heading for victory no matter its actual position in the race. On election night in 2012, Republican strategist Karl Rove strenuously denied on Fox News, in clear defiance of the facts, that President Barack Obama had won Ohio. Combined with his yearslong reliance on “alternative facts,” Trump’s currently uncertain chances of winning predispose him to lie about and mischaracterize the results to a vastly greater extent than even Rove did eight years ago. Don’t let him fool you.
As you consume the news this week and pore over the results, think critically about what you’re reading. Check source credibility, corroborate claims and consider the incentives of authors to misrepresent the truth. Unless we approach the media with the intentional caution that this grave election warrants, we may see those emotions veer into darkness or even violence.
In this polarized time, one of the only rhetorical devices that still retains appeal on both the left and the right is the idea that despite our fundamentally different views, we all belong to the same country. All of us are somehow invested in the betterment of the U.S. and, consequently, in the election that will decide its future. Use that shared bond to hold everyone from your elected officials to your friends and family accountable to the truth. If you feel that your representative or governor is spreading misinformation, clarify it to them and everyone else. Faced with a family member on Twitter erroneously calling on officials to invalidate absentee ballots, call them out on it. Your stake in this election obligates you not merely to responsibly consume news and purge misinformation from your own life, but also to hold everyone else to that same standard.
Whatever this election’s eventual outcome, you can make your voice heard. Call on your elected officials to demand fairness in any and all recounts and call on your local governments to enlist all the help they can to total every vote. If you feel that is not enough, protest delays and demand that all votes cast are counted.
Even that, though, may not be enough. Groups on both sides of the political spectrum have been planning large-scale demonstrations to defend the election’s integrity for months. We may very well need them. If Trump tries to invalidate ballots in the coming days or refuses to accept a loss to former Vice President Joe Biden, we will need to protest. Take to the streets and tell the American people, the government, the country, the world, that they cannot let him realize his dream of illegitimate power.
If Trump wins reelection legitimately, mobilizing from the ground up will be more important than ever. If Biden emerges the victor, know that the work to repair the damage of the Trump administration will begin right away. Trump has left this country a shadow of its former self and fixing it will be up to us.
The stakes for our democracy have never been higher. A storied history, a vulnerable present and an indefinite future now rest on our shoulders — ours alone and ours together. Get ready to fight for them.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Brammhi Balarajan, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Kemal Budak, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Demetrios Mammas, Meredith McKelvey, Sara Perez, Ben Thomas, Leah Woldai and Lynnea Zhang.