Before Trump and after Biden’s triumph — let’s talk about American democracy

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It was 2016. I hid my face in the pillow, in an attempt to undo that Pennsylvania had turned from blue to red and then was called for the Republicans on Election Day. I was shaken by the election results, in light of the polarizing rhetoric that was employed and the uniquely divisive manifestos we had seen on the campaign trail. This wasn’t the America I had known. This election result stood testament to the fact that America had changed. It wasn’t the same country that rallied behind President Obama in 2008 after his iconic “There’s only one United States of America” speech. This was a new America, one that had rallied behind “Build the Wall.” Shocked, I couldn’t help but wonder if President Trump was a cause or simply a symptom?

Over four years of President Trump’s term, numerous policies and bills have been signed, resulting in demonstrations on the streets, people protesting actions and in some cases, inactions on the president’s part. These events include, but aren’t limited to, the infamous “Muslim ban”, separating children at the U.S.-Mexico Border and a surge in hate crimes, and that’s without mentioning the height of governmental failure and orchestrated lies throughout the pandemic. As I sat back refreshing data on exit polls every few minutes, biting my nails as votes representing people became numbers on my screen, I found myself in a similar spot through the last few days. In light of two cycles of presidential elections with President Trump as a candidate, I find myself asking the same questions: Is Trump a cause or a symptom? How would that impact the next four years of American democracy? 

One of the biggest concerns during the last election cycle was that there wasn’t a significant voter turnout. Now as of Nov. 3, 2020, as per the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, 99 million people participated in early voting and over 150 million Americans turned out on Tuesday, marking this the highest turnout in over a century. But alas, the data that we have so far shows that the picture of voting matters seems to be rather similar to 2016. As per MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab, women voted 56-43 Biden, while the two candidates were almost tied among men. In terms of race breakdown, Trump won 8% of the Black vote in 2016 — this figure more than doubled to 18% during this election cycle. Even though we lack particular evidence, the current results are credited to the turnout of young people and the Latino community which has historically been underrepresented in the electorate. As I write this article, the Associated Press, among other sources, has announced Joseph Biden to be the president-elect with 290 electoral votes; Trump trails at 214. Alaska and the swing states of Georgia and North Carolina are yet to be called. Even though the current data restricts our understanding of what contributed to the change in voting patterns, trends so far highlight that polarization is deeply rooted in our system and more importantly that President Trump represents the opinions and desires of millions of Americans. 

With President-elect Biden winning Pennsylvania by a margin of around 0.5%, he won the ticket to the White House. But this also means millions of Trump supporters within America will be disappointed with the final results. While disappointment is acceptable, distrust in the system is not. With President Trump’s repeated accusation of this election being fraudulent, without presenting any evidence, millions of Trump supporters could be feeling dismay at perceived injustices in the electoral system. This could potentially result in unrest all over the country, making it difficult to smoothly move forward into a new administration. 

The bottom line is that this lack of trust in the established system, as propagated through divisive rhetoric, results in polarization and sows disunity throughout the country. As a result, it is important for the incoming president to rekindle trust in the system by employing strong unifying narrative and policies, and it is equally important for all Americans to trust the efficacy of the system by giving the new president a chance, despite political differences. The incoming president should craft policies aimed at strengthening the lower and middle class by raising the minimum wage, abolish the “Muslim ban,” reunite children held at the U.S.-Mexico border with their parents and devise strategies to systematically defund the police. Implementation of such policies would reinforce trust of Americans who have felt unheard for the past four years — and oftentimes longer. The socio-economic benefits of such policies, along with a strong narrative that appeals to all Americans, would also substantially lessen polarization and bestow a new spirit upon American democracy. 

While this election result has been long awaited, costing many of us our sleep and sanity, especially in the past few days, I hope beginning tonight we all sleep with comfort, reassured in the power of our individual votes and reinforcing our trust in the system. While there is a long journey ahead, I hope this election result marks the beginning of a new America, one which is more unified and less divided, that inspires all citizens, but especially members of marginalized communities, to participate in elections, dream and (one day soon) become president of the United States of America. In President-elect Biden’s words — Insha Allah! 

Muskan Shafat is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying political science.

Contact Muskan Shafat at muskan ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Muskan Shafat is an Opinions columnist at The Stanford Daily. She is a Senior from Kashmir studying Political Science & Analytics, Human Rights and South Asian studies.