Tanzina Vega: Back with you on The Takeaway, I'm Tanzina Vega. While we all wait to learn the final results of the 2020 Presidential Election, there's already a lot of conversation about what the results so far can tell us about who we are as a country. Here's what you had to say.
Noah: This is Noah from Wilsonville, Oregon. This entire election cycle has taught me that fear has become too much a part of our politics. We have started voting out of fear for what the other person or party will do if elected. Not out of hopes for what the person we're voting for will achieve. This makes me sad as an American.
Angela: This is Angela from Charlotte, North Carolina. What this collection tells me is that we are yet to deal with the remnants of slavery. The Electoral College is a remnant of the Three-fifths rule that has changed and continued to have an aftertaste in our electoral process and the way people are treated. It's time to change.
Mark: My name is Mark [unintelligible 00:01:16] I live in Westport, Connecticut. This election made me realize, half the people that I run past every day think very differently than me.
Tanzina: To talk through all of this and more I'm joined now by Kai Wright, the host of WNYC's The United States of Anxiety. Kai, thanks for being with us.
Kai Wright: Hey, there.
Tanzina: Also with us as Margaret Hoover, the host of PBS's Firing Line with Margaret Hoover. Margaret, welcome to the show.
Margaret Hoover: Thanks so much for having me.
Tanzina: Let's dive right in, folks. President Trump, when he won in 2016, it caught a lot of folks by surprise. This year, I feel like it's even more of a surprise for some Americans who are stunned that after COVID-19, eight million people being pushed into poverty, historically low approval ratings, family separation, that the President is still close to winning, that he came quite close in this. What does this tell us about our country? Kai, let's start with you.
Kai: Well, I guess first off, I think it's really interesting to think about the emotional response to this, because as we stand, Joe Biden is on path to quite a resounding victory, actually. If as the trends are headed, if he manages to win in both Arizona and Georgia, he will have flipped two Republican states and won back at least already two Democratic states, which is a significant victory and has a higher number of people in the popular vote voted for him than ever in history of the presidency.
On one hand, there's that, and yet, as you point out, there is this widespread frustration that there were so many people who were Republicans and who had supported Donald Trump in the past. They continued to support him. I think it's interesting to me that people wanted something from this election that I don't think the election could ever provide, which was this repudiation of the idea of Donald Trump. I don't know that the election was ever set up for that.
Tanzina: That's an interesting point because I think you're right, Kai. I think a lot of people were looking for that. Obviously, if they were Democrats in particular, but Margaret, what are your thoughts on this? What does this tell us so far about our country?
Margaret: Well, I would like to just pause it. Kai, you started, and I agree with you, by suggesting how shocked we are, and many people are, that there hasn't been a fundamental repudiation of Donald Trump, but I will say there is equal shock amongst the people who Donald Trump turned out for this election, that he made be losing. Because they believe so deeply in their heart of hearts that he was winning as the president and that he would win and would be vindicated and when a second term.
I think a lot of what this election tells us is how deeply polarized the country is. There are deeply red states and deeply blue states and deep blue pockets within those states. Even look at Arizona, there are blue counties in Arizona and there are red counties in Arizona, even within the context of that state, people cannot believe that the other guy won. I think what we've recognized is how sick our politics is and how sick our country is from this polarization.
Tanzina: I think that's definitely another part of it. There are lots of folks who are just wanting to put their head in the sand and just wait until this whole thing blows over. There were some voters who said that they might have been voting with their own interests first and there were others who said they might've been voting for communities other than their own. There might've been people who were taken to the polls to vote for people who were undocumented and can't vote, for example. Was there a greater sense Kai, that you think that people voted for issues outside of themselves, or was this really driven, you think, by self-interest?
Kai: I think that we have to be able to think about it in a more granular way on some level. For instance, when you say that, I think about, I saw one stat that in Florida, for instance, more people voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour then for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Implying that there was in fact unity on that question. We look at some of these initiatives around the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.
There are particular specific issues that I think that a wide swath of Americans agree upon, but when asked to choose what camp do you sit in this core culture war that has been mapped over as according to for partisan presidential politics has become a proxy for these core culture wars around race and gender and identities.
For those, yes, it's stark, but I also want to say when we think about this divide, we shouldn't lose track of-- You were talking about Michigan earlier in the show and this is one thing that you guys talked about there is, we also have to remember how perverse the districts are in terms of gerrymandering in these states. The way that these boundaries have been drawn over the last 10 years, they're drawn to make sure that there is not a lot of variation between those counties.
On a high turnout election, you might see something where you have huge numbers of Democrats or Republicans win something statewide, but in terms of change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the county, they've been drawn for the purpose of them not changing.
Tanzina: Margaret, there's been a lot of talk about violence against people of color, police brutality, white privilege, white supremacy, has any of that, do you think influence white voters, white American voters this time around?
Margaret: Yes, I think I would maybe quibble a little bit with the characterization that voting for the good of others is not voting in your own interests. I think I voted my own interest all the time, but I think part of my own interest is taking care of other people. I think that people can-- I don't think there's anything wrong with voting in your own interest. I think we have a lot of people, to your point, Tanzina, that I think-- Look at suburban women. Suburban women are of course voting for their own interests. They're voting for their own families, they're voting for their own communities, but they repudiated Donald Trump because of the specifically the issues that you suggested.
These issues, and Kai that you spoke about, of racial reconciliation that we're still grappling within our country of a minimum wage, of criminal justice reform. These aren't issues that necessarily impact working moms in the suburbs of this country, but it does impact them maybe not directly, but it impacts them because they care about these issues. I think you can vote in your own interest, but if your own interest cares and is empathetic for about others and about the good of our country.
Tanzina: Margaret, how do you explain the fact that President Trump has still appeal to so many voters? Because I think your point at the very top of the conversation was really accurate. We are living in such a deeply divided country right now. There is an appeal that this President has that I think half of the country just doesn't understand.
Margaret: Well, we are a big country and a lot of us-- I think part of it-- Tanzina, if you recall, remember when Donald Trump won and there was a real effort on behalf of many people, liberal elites, in particular, to go out into the country and try to figure out how they had been blindsided? who were those--
Tanzina: You're talking about the diner interviews?
Margaret: Yes, who are these people who elected Donald Trump? Who are the ones that voted for Barack Obama twice, and then voted for Donald Trump? How did this happen? I think it's incumbent on all of us to get outside of our bubbles and try to understand, but I think to answer your question and there are various levels of this, there are a lot of people having seen Donald Trump for four years that simply were not bothered by his behavior in the debates, his handling of the coronavirus, his speaking, and giving real sunlight to some of the worst and ugliest traditions in American history. I'm looking at Neo-Nazis and Proud Boys. That simply weren't bothered by that.
I think there does need to be a bit of analysis done on-- There is an authoritarian trend that we see, not just in Donald Trump, but in leaders around the world. You're seeing it in Europe, you're seeing it in Latin America. Why is there an interest and an affinity for authoritarian leaders in this time globally, and I think we should look at that, because there are a lot of Americans that weren't turned off by the things that you and Kai and I have been turned off by.
Tanzina: Well, and I think that a lot of folks are going to call and say what it is. They're going to say it's plain racism. It's the fact that largely, Trump supporters are largely white, rural, and have come out in droves to support him because they like, they don't just not want to repudiate it, but that they actually like some of this messaging. Kai, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that, because that feels like it's something that in particular not only does the GOP have to figure out where it goes from here, regardless of whether the President wins or not, but I think the Democrats also have to figure out how they were unable to get a big "blue wave", but let's take the first part of that.
Kai: Beyond Republicans and Democrats, we as a country have to reckon with this. I think you're exactly right. I think there was this notion for some people that, well, if people just had their blinders removed, if they just saw, if they could see what I could see about Donald Trump, they would change their mind, my estranged brother or cousin or whoever, who I can't believe would support this man. People have not been able to say, well maybe it's about that people actually agree with him. They actually see this. It's not like you're smarter than that person over there and you can see it and they can't. No, people have listened to Donald Trump and said, "I agree with this, I believe in this."
A significant part of that we have to acknowledge is racism and sexism, that there are openly racist and sexist and xenophobic things about Donald Trump's appeal, and that there are significant parts of explicitly white America that supports those ideas. That shouldn't come as a surprise, because we have hundreds of years of this history that we've never dealt with.
There's a way in which just these past four years, and now again in this election, a broad swath of Americans have been confronted with the reality that there is in fact a very real strain of anti-Black and anti-brown and anti-woman sentiment in this country. It's not going to go away because the coronavirus came along and would change the political map. This is deeper than electoral politics.
Tanzina: It's not going to go away regardless of who becomes president. That's something that we're going to have to deal with the effects of this for quite some time. I want to go back to one of the calls we heard at the beginning of the segment, because I think this might be a big reason for a lot of what we're seeing on both sides of the political divide. The idea that people are voting because of what they're fearful of not because of what they're hopeful of. Margaret, do you agree?
Margaret: I can only speak for myself, I speak for what I vote and I organize my life and my politics around what I'm hopeful for. Fear is a factor though. I do think it is and I think, Kai, all the things you said are right, but I think this also fits within a larger global trend of economic uncertainty, and this rise of authoritarian instincts and impulses that you see around the world.
I think we would be remiss to not put the American experience within the larger context, a global context of economic uncertainty, automation, all the technological advances that are happening and displacing people that draw on the worst, the nativist instincts, the racist instincts, and traditions, the worst instincts of, I think, human nature. Times of uncertainty and tumult and huge change, bring us, I think, not to the best version of ourselves.
Tanzina: Kai, one of the things that this is going to-- whatever the outcome is, is really going to be an analysis I think by both parties are going to have to do about their future and where they go from here. If Biden is able to pull off a win, how do you think the future of the Democratic Party will look after that? A the end of the day we still have two white old men who are running for president.
Kai: There are huge questions about the Democratic Party moving forward and the Republican Party moving forward. They both have a very rocky road ahead of them. For the Democrats, a couple of things are clear. One, Joe Biden's theory, and I have to say I think he has run an incredible campaign which I would not have expected, Joe Biden's theory though was that he was going to be able to hold and turn out the Democratic base of Black people primarily and people of color in cities and young people. He would then be able to bring in a rush of white people, of white republicans, of white conservatives who have not been in the Democratic Party since 1964.
I think that they thought they would be the people to change that in the southern strategy, as it were, and that has not happened. Whatever happens in this election, that did not happen. The question then is, how does this pretty moderate leader, who thinks about democratic politics in mid-century, mid-20th century terms, lead a party that is, despite turning out for him, is far left of him I think, and far more diverse than him, and far younger than him, and far more interested in fundamental reforms than him. I think that's going to be an interesting question.
Tanzina: I wonder if it even gives-- I think a lot of voters, particularly voters of color, particularly Black voters and Black women if we're going to get very granular, they are a huge reason for why Joe Biden even got the votes that he got. There is I think a real sense-- First of all, there's a couple of things happening, I think voters of color feel, particularly Black women voters feel like the Democratic Party needs to do more for them.
We heard earlier in our report in Wisconsin, I was asking our reporter on the ground there about what message Joe Biden had for Black residents of the state. It's one of the worst states to be Black in this country. She said Biden really didn't have a message for Black voters. That struck me as odd and a missed opportunity.
Kai: Well it is, but it's also I think what's an unnamed dynamic for the party, is that we are increasingly in a place where it's not about Black voters and Black women saying what that party over there is doing for me. We're in a place where those voters and activists are taking over the party right? We are quickly to the point where there's enough power and leadership amongst Black constituencies to be in charge of the party. That's the lesson of Georgia quite frankly. If you look at a state like Georgia that we don't know, but it looks at this point at minimum it is a purple state, and it may well be a Democratic state by the end of this election.
That is a place where for roughly a decade Stacey Abrams, as a Black woman and the constituents she has built, have been filling the void where the Democratic Party was not, where a corporate Democratic Party was not investing in a place like Georgia. They have said, "Well, we're going to invest in ourselves." There has been significant conflict between Stacey Abrams and her world, and the party prior to now. That she wasn't always the darling of the party, there was a while in which the National Party and her did not get on because--
Tanzina: Until she was able to deliver votes.
Tanzina: At least her strategy was able to deliver votes.
Kai: That's right, until she started to change the state. The point is that that's a lesson in that it wasn't about waiting for the party to show up. It was about, "Oh, okay. Well, we're going to build a party we want here." I think you're seeing the same thing in Texas with a more multiracial coalition, of both Latino and Black voters and activists who have said, "Well, we're just going to change it then. We're going to change it ourselves."
I think that is the tension that is going to be the future of the party. Also might be the salvation of the party, because those are voters in places that break up this geographic basically, I call it the Confederacy, but this solid block of Republican votes across the South and the Sun Belt. For most of my lifetime, that has been a minority rule in those places. Now there are activists both inside and outside of the Democratic Party that are dedicated to changing that, and that's going to ultimately change national politics.
Tanzina: I want to thank Margaret Hoover, the host of PBS's Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, and Kai Wright, the host of WNYC's The United States of Anxiety. Thank you both for joining me.
Margaret: Thanks so much for having me.
Kai: Thank you.
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