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Our Joy Will be Short-Lived

Everything Trump does in the next 75 days or so could make things so, so much worse.

Smoke over the Chehalem Mountains in Western Oregon.
Flickr/ Sheila Sund

By now it is almost certain that Donald Trump will lose the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden will be the next president.

I am incredibly pleased by this for a very simple reason: I am not sure our country could have survived four more years of Donald Trump. That statement is a bit hyperbolic; America as an entity would surely have withstood another term. But I worried that by the end of it, what was left would be unrecognizable, and that any slim possibility of reclaiming or reforming this national body into something better for the people who comprise it would have been snuffed out. I also worried that along the way, hundreds of thousands of people who do not look like me and do not have the means and resources I do would be killed, and that the structural violence that oppresses them would become so entrenched that escaping it would seem impossible in my lifetime. I don’t think a Biden administration will bring measurable change to these systemic ills. But I also don’t think it will exacerbate them at an insurmountable rate, which gives me hope that we will have the chance to see a brighter America in my lifetime.

The problem, as I think the general news cycle will realize about 12 hours from now, is that Joe Biden does not take office until January 2021. In the interim period, Donald Trump is almost certainly going to salt the earth. He is going to do as much damage as he can before his time is up. I am going to stop short of saying that he will try to do a coup: his rapidly sinking ship is not run tightly enough to pull one off, nor do I think the far more disciplined core of the GOP behind Mitch McConnell would support one. Instead, they will use Trump as a weapon, and point him at all of the places that will hurt the American people the most, and use the devastation and their continued gridlock of the Senate to hobble a Biden administration for years until they can reclaim the executive branch.

What this means for you and me is there is almost no way we’re seeing jack shit for stimulus checks until January. But worse than that — we can expect almost no federal leadership where the coronavirus pandemic is concerned, as the only motivation Trump had for doing the bare minimum he did was to get re-elected. It’s entirely possible that we’ll also see the end of the CDC eviction moratorium (which corporate landlords have already been flouting in order to put people out on the street). Our cases are currently at the highest daily rate they have been throughout the crisis and show no signs of plateauing.

And even if the country wasn’t wracked by a deadly pandemic, a lame duck Trump would still be capable of doing an enormous amount of damage. A great example of how this will play out in other industries is what we’ve seen at the EPA. In October, the Washington Post reported that Trump has rolled back over 125 different environmental protections, an effort he has stepped up in recent months as the election news cycle wiped out other stories. Repairing these rollbacks, The New Republic reports, could take years of the Biden administration’s time and effort, long political battles that could mean vast swathes of Biden’s lackluster climate plan will be put on hold until he can just break even.

And while they’re doing all of this, the dire humanitarian crises Trump has created on the U.S. border will continue. Biden, who sat comfortably in an administration that deported record numbers of immigrants, is not likely to immediately reform the asylum system that Trump ground into the dust at the expense of thousands of lives. Stephen Miller now has nothing to lose. He has two months and change to inflict as much pain as he wants on the country’s non-white occupants and those who seek to join them.

What this means is that the Biden administration is going to take office in a country ravaged by death, unemployment, corporate malfeasance, and economic desperation. You could say that would have been the case no matter who is president, but it’s almost certain that everything Trump does in the next 75 days or so will make things so, so much worse. And bear in mind, the Democrats are already talking themselves out of pushing for anything better, an attitude which has let McConnell comfortably keep effective control of the entire U.S. legislature for more than half a decade.

I don’t say this to try to dim the relief most of us feel in knowing that Trump will have only months, not years, to enact these policies. But if we don’t brace for this we will be consumed. The only way to stop the salting of the earth is to give up as little ground as possible.