Daniel Zhao
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Some quick reflections before the storm

Originally posted on Medium.

It’s almost 6 p.m. of Election Day. The New York Times already has an election tracker up on their website, though it’s not yet populated with any data. Daylight Savings just passed this weekend, so the sky’s been dark for almost an hour at this point. My Google Home is playing Kygo because that’s the first thing I thought to tell it to play, but in retrospect, it doesn’t quite feel like the right atmosphere.

I mean, in any other election year where we’re headed into election night with an 8-point polling lead against the incumbent, 9.4 million Americans infected with COVID-19 and nearly 232,000 killed, and an economic crisis induced in part by poor policy, it should be clear who the winner of the election should be. But the last few months have made clear that we are in no way living through a normal period of history. When a president chooses to break the norms that have held together our nation’s politics — not the least of which include his refusal to commit to a clear transfer of power and his attacks on the civil service — and when that president has taken over a major political party and its base to radically reshape our public institutions, there is something dramatically wrong. There is so much at stake in this election — no wonder even an 8-point national lead can’t quell our anxieties.

There is some hope. A professor I spoke to yesterday — normally one of the more pessimistic professors I know — predicted, with great confidence, that Biden would take Pennsylvania, in addition to one of Georgia, North Carolina, or Texas. It’s possible that record turnout in Texas, where the number of early votes exceeded the total number of votes cast in 2016, might be indicative of enthusiasm among Democrats that election models could not properly predict. We’ll know in six hours — 360 minutes that will feel like an eternity — whether Biden can clinch the victory, or whether we’ll have to settle in to a bumpy few weeks.

If Biden does win tonight, high turnout among young people and minorities will have helped to propel him there. And it makes me wonder what kind of country we could have if every demographic group were likely to vote, or even better, if we could make it easy for every American citizen to vote.

I can only hope that the enthusiasm we’re seeing now won’t be subside after this election. A Trump victory would signal the absolute annihilation of our nation’s democratic fabric: he has already signaled plans to purge his political opponents, create a civil service comprised of his cronies, and, aided by his allies, make our country increasingly indistinguishable from the authoritarianism that America has for so long sought to reject. But a Biden victory remains far from a cure-all to our problems. To tackle racial injustice, the pandemic, barriers to voting, and the power of tech platforms — to say nothing of the strength and health of our democratic institutions, political norms, and a well-functioning government — we’ll need continued enthusiasm among the Democratic base, and among young voters in particular, to create enough political capital for Democrats to enact an ambitious, Rooseveltian agenda beyond just 2022 and 2024.

We’ll have a pretty good idea of the results in Florida and North Carolina by 8 p.m. This is certainly not the first time I’ve waited around an hour and a half for some kind of outcome, but unlike middle school math competitions, none have ever come close to the magnitude and importance of this outcome.

As Nick Clegg would say, “see you on the other side.”