Washington Whispers: Political Disaster Averted—Or Was It?
By Jessie Seigel/Washington, D.C.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has just won the 2020 election for President of the United States, the end of a process that felt as slow as snails moving through molasses. When that news hit, today cars were honking outside of my window, and people were hooting in euphoria.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, I didn’t venture down to the White House and join the crowds there. But I went for a walk to drink in the honking horns passing through my neighborhood. There was a steady stream of cars—not a caravan but a STREAM, a RIVER—flowing in both directions up and down Connecticut Avenue, performing a symphony: call and response, then honking together in an odd kind of harmony as they passed each other. You’d think it would sound discordant, but it was beautiful to me. Just beautiful.
I don’t remember feeling anything quite like it here in D.C., not even when Barack Obama was elected or inaugurated; those were spectacular and moving events, but in a different way. This was more of a catharsis, a tremendous release of all the stress we’ve been under for four years. We’ve been relieved of a monster and, for the moment, the good guys have won. I stood on the corner and waved at all the honkers with tears in my eyes.
But, even in this moment of relief and hope, I walk somewhat in fear.
During the last week, Donald Trump busied himself being the quintessential tinpot despot, a thief calling his victims thieves. As expected, during this last week, he proclaimed himself the winner, regardless of how the people actually voted, cried fraud where absentee ballots were being legally counted, took challenges to lower courts that have quickly tossed out his bogus claims, and threatened to take the matter to his bought-and-delivered Supreme Court.
This descent into cartoonish, surrealistic fascism bodes ill for the months ahead. Trump and his minions can be counted upon to do as much mischief as possible during the transition period before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in on January 20th.
But more importantly, if the Democrats don’t get control of the Senate, democracy will be on its deathbed regardless of who is president.
If Mitch McConnell continues as Senate Majority Leader, he can block anything that Biden, Senate Democrats, or a Democratic House of Representatives attempt to do for the country. After all, McConnell is the man who prevented Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from getting any consideration whatsoever. For the four years of the Trump administration, McConnell has blocked deliberation on bills coming to the Senate from the House, forced through right-wing judgeships, made a sham of Trump’s impeachment trial by refusing to permit witnesses to testify, and embraced retaliatory investigations of candidate Biden by the Senate’s Republican-led Homeland Security Committee.
In his most recent travesty, McConnell forced through the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett while simultaneously refusing to work honestly with the House on meaningful, desperately needed COVID-19 economic relief. Can anyone think that, under a Democratic president, McConnell and the Senate Republicans will suddenly take a nonpartisan approach?
A Republican majority in the Senate could not only prevent action on any Biden legislation but could, by refusing to confirm Biden’s nominees, wield a veto power over all his cabinet appointments. In effect, McConnell, Dictator of the Senate, could be the one to decide who Biden’s cabinet members will be.
And instead of doing the business of the country, you can bet that McConnell’s Republican Senate would conduct more bogus investigations of Biden, even though the one that they recently concluded concerning corruption allegations involving Ukraine failed to find or manufacture any evidence of wrongdoing. They will do this in part as revenge for the much-deserved impeachment of Trump, and in part to prevent Biden from resolving our country’s very real problems.
So what can we who care about democracy do?
Based on this election, in January 2021, the Democrats will have 48 senators (46 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with them), and the Republicans will have 50. Two Senate races in Georgia are going to a runoff election on January 5th: Jon Ossoff (D) vs. incumbent David Purdue (R) and Raphael Warnock (D) versus incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R).
If the Democrats could win those two seats, it would be momentous. There would be a tie in the number of senators and, with a Democratic vice-president to break tie votes, the Democrats would control the Senate. A Democrat would become Majority Leader. We would have a real chance to correct the damage done during the past four years and perhaps make some progress on Covid-19, jobs, health care, systemic racism, immigration, climate change, and a host of other crucial concerns that have worsened or been ignored under the Republican regime.
So, okay. Now that Biden has become President-Elect, take your moment to celebrate. But please, don’t get too comfortable. The battle to save democracy is just starting. Though we may be exhausted by the battle just won, we must fight on without a break until January at least. If we can get Ossoff and Warnock Senate seats, maybe then, I will feel like I can take a true breath.
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.