It’s election day, and I’m under a self-imposed media blackout. I just can’t spend the whole day on edge, nervously refreshing 538 or the New York Times website. I know I’m not alone in experiencing an unusual amount of election-related anxiety this year.
The ways in which this has been a crazy year are too well-known and numerous to list. But for me, what it all comes down to is the struggle between a vision of America as a pluralistic liberal democracy versus America as a predominately white, quasi-authoritarian state.
Donald Trump’s rhetorical assaults on ethnic and religious minorities, his casual misogyny, his disregard for pillars of a free society like the separation of powers and an independent press, his courting of overt racists, and his followers’ flirtation with political violence make him, unquestionably, the most dangerous presidential candidate in my lifetime. This isn’t about liberalism vs. conservatism, as we normally think of our political conflicts; it’s about national identity and the nature of the American regime.
Hillary Clinton, for all her well-canvassed flaws, is the de facto head of a coalition animated by a pluralistic view of America based on civic equality and a more tolerant, liberal view of national identity. Whether she’ll be in a position to advance her more ambitious social-democratic proposals is, to my mind, secondary to the urgent task of repudiating Trump’s white-nationalist, bargain-basement authoritarian movement. The fact that this movement has been aligned with a toxic, tribalist version of Christianity only adds to the urgency.
Even assuming the Democrats do well today (as the polls suggest), the fact that a large part of the electorate rejects social pluralism and civic equality is likely to roil our politics for years to come. And I can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to get a lot uglier before it gets better.