Many of us went into election night looking for a repudiation — an unequivocal electoral avalanche, a stinging rebuke that would erase Donald Trump and Trumpism, allowing us to look back on the past four years of division, vitriol and indecency as nothing more than a blip. A brief mistake. An outlier. Not us. Others hoped to hear the death rattle of an ugly legacy we'd long acknowledged as part of our country's founding. Still others were wiser.
This is not to minimize President-elect Joseph Biden's victory — it's a monumental course correction likely to have massive global and domestic impacts on everything from the climate crisis and racial justice to healthcare access and halting the pandemic. It's the return, one hopes, to fighting over how — not whether — we work toward equity, security and sustainability. Perhaps just as important are Biden's promises of a presidency that exemplifies decency and empathy — traits entirely absent from the White House over the past four years. But the results of the Nov. 3 election are clearly cause more for relief than celebration.
There's no escaping the pain of looking over the electoral map and having to square with the fact that more than 70 million of us Americans surveyed the charred landscape of the last four years — past the white supremacist dog (and finger) whistles, the racist and misogynistic rhetoric, the dehumanizing tweets, a border policy that ripped children from families, the daily callousness of hosting large rallies while COVID-19 numbers of the infected and the dead swelled and health care systems became overwhelmed — and signed up for four more years. In Humboldt County, more than 10,000 of us made that choice. That presumably includes the hundreds who strapped Trump flags to their cars a couple weeks back and caravanned from Fortuna to McKinleyville in a show of force the likes of which we can't recall seeing here for a national candidate. And for reasons that defy explanation — especially here in Humboldt County, where Election Days have long ended with large stacks of yet-to-be-counted ballots — many of these people have seemingly bought into the flatly crazy, baseless allegation that Democratic officials (a few Republican ones, too) across a handful of states somehow conspired to make Biden win by the very slimmest of margins while delivering Republican House and Senate victories.
But as we watch the president bluff his way through a final, losing hand so he can walk away from the White House the same way he entered — an aggrieved, gold-plated pile of white privilege — it's imperative that we keep focus on the fact that the division in America is not and has never been about Trump. He's the symptom, not the cancer. The carnival barker, not the carnival. The dealer, not the casino. The decoy bumping into you, not the guy pulling your wallet.
The sickness that enabled Trump's rise to the presidency — that more recently got him 70 million votes — is systemic. It's a culture that values corporations over people, celebrities over neighbors, entertainment over information, consumerism and convenience over the environment. It's a system that enjoys the cultural contributions of Black, Indigenous and people of color and LGBTQ folks, while devaluing their lives. It's only getting worse.
The good news — for all of us — is the answer to some of this isn't 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C. It wasn't there in 2008, nor in 2016, and we're not going to miraculously find it there now.
No, the answer is on our street, in our neighborhood, our city, our county. If we want to make this nation as great as it can be, we start locally. We participate in neighborhood cleanups and volunteer for nonprofits. We participate in local processes and make local governments work for us. We look for tangible ways to help the more vulnerable among us. We vote with our dollars and support the businesses that align with our values — those that are locally owned, pay living wages and operate in environmentally responsible ways while standing up for equity and inclusion. We step away from strangers on social media and talk to the people in our lives. We turn off the cable news pundits and read real reporting about local issues.
None of this is to say national and global politics aren't important. Of course they are. Trump's defeat is huge, as are two runoff elections in Georgia that will decide which party controls the Senate. But it is to say that unless you're going to throw yourself into really helping — making donations and phone banking — most of your energy is better spent where you live.
We have little say in changing Washington, D.C., or Nebraska or North Carolina or Pennsylvania. Humboldt, however, remains firmly in play.