Going to bed with uncertainty and waking up to the same after only four hours of sleep wasn’t my ideal Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.
What I hoped would be revealed through the 2020 election – a clear, forceful repudiation by the U.S. public not of a political party but of a politician who seems to revel in eliciting the worst human tendencies – didn’t happen.
I anticipated that more GOP voters would affirm the local- and state-level leaders of their party, while rejecting a president whose rhetoric and value-system seem at odds with what I was taught in my growing up years that Republicans cared about and stood for.
Instead, when I turned on my television and computer, I found the same “too close to call” and “too early to call” notices on the same states from the night before, along with coverage of President Trump’s speech to his supporters early Wednesday.
Once again seeking to undermine public confidence in U.S. democracy, Trump declared himself the victor and asserted that any remaining votes to be counted were a fraudulent effort on the part of Democrats to disenfranchise his supporters and to steal the election from him.
It was a disturbing, unsettling claim that revealed the unrecognized hubris and naivety in my perception of the U.S. as a place where such rhetoric would never find a place among serious U.S. presidential contenders, much less a viewpoint cheered and applauded by the president’s staunchest supporters who were in the room.
Starting to drift into a sense of despair at the state of the nation, my gaze turned to the bookcase in my office, focusing on the title of a still-to-be-read book: All the Light We Cannot See.
It seemed a prophetic rebuke of my cynicism and a much-needed reminder to consider the light that can be found even in a polarized political climate when we dare to look, to pay attention, to train our eyes to see.
As I began looking, here are a few points of light I found:
- Increased civic engagement.
U.S. citizens turned out to vote in numbers not seen since 1900, with record numbers of early voting, such that several U.S. states had more early votes than the total ballots cast in their states four years ago. No matter the ultimate result of the presidential election, more citizens engaging in the democratic process is a win for the nation.
- Trump’s victory declaration was met with a quick, clear critique and rejection.
Pundits and news anchors decried in real time his statement as not only inaccurate but also inappropriate, while many on Twitter were quick to reject his claim.
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie broke in on the coverage of Trump’s speech to point out the inaccurate claims in real time, while Chris Wallace of Fox News told viewers that the victory claim was false and called it “extremely inflammatory.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in an ABC News panel, said, “There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn’t. … I disagree with what he did tonight. … it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make tonight who holds the position he holds.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum called Trump’s remarks “very disappointing” and said he was “very distressed by what I heard the president say.”
“A democracy is dependent on fair, safe and accurate elections. Voting has stopped BUT vote counting is still ongoing and thus, every legitimate vote should be counted,” tweeted Bread for the World CEO Eugene Cho. “This is not stealing. This is not partisan. Rather, this must be a shared commitment to that democracy.”
Conservative commentator Michael Gerson tweeted, “To be clear, what Trump is doing – trashing the electoral system – is not a future threat to democracy. Not a potential threat to democracy. It is an unfolding attack on democracy. It is not just Trump venting. It is Trump corrupting and diminishing every institution he touches.”
- Barriers were broken.
Ritchie Torres won New York’s 15th Congressional District by a wide margin, becoming the first gay Afro-Latino congressperson. Sarah McBride became the first transgender state senator in U.S. history, winning her campaign in Delaware. Taylor Small became the first transgender person to win a seat to the Vermont House of Representatives. A Forbes article details a few additional barrier-breaking firsts that took place in the 2020 elections.
- Land and funds were set aside for local parks.
My town, a suburb of Austin, Texas, along with several other towns and municipal utility districts in the area, passed bond measures to provide funding for parks and recreation projects via property tax increases.
This might seem like a comparatively small matter, but it is encouraging to see citizens affirming the importance of creating, expanding and maintaining local parks, ensuring that land is conserved and preserved for something other than single-family homes, apartment complexes, shopping centers and parking lots.
I’m hopeful these local affirmations I’ve observed are part of larger trends across the nation.
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and now the cartoon spinoff, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” encourage us to “look for the helpers” when faced with challenges and uncertainty.
It isn’t a denial of reality or Pollyannaish optimism, but an acknowledgment that there are always points of light that continue to shine out even amid the dreariness and darkness. We just have to train our eyes to see.