What a relief. When news of Joe Biden’s victory came on that bright autumn Saturday, honking and cheers rang out in the streets, even in the ever-so-proper Princeton. Coincidentally, a nearby church bell also started to ring. Salvation at last. After four years of darkness and pandemic, it seemed, this country had recovered. A hopeful future dawned.
Ah, not so. The biggest surprise of this presidential election is that there is no surprise. The country turned out to be exactly as split as it was four years ago. Well, once all the votes are counted exactly again, Biden will appear to have won a split verdict.
Who knows, he may actually be allowed to move into the White House and run the country. But the more than 72 million Trump voters don’t care about that. They have long lived in a parallel universe of alternative facts. A reality where their candidate always wins, as long as you don’t count the other side’s “fraudulent” votes. Where you are free from logic and can explain everything to your advantage. Where all men have square jaws and all women are slim and blonde. Where facts adapt to thoughts, instead of the other way around.
What psychologists call cognitive dissonance is now playing out on a national scale. When the facts are at odds with our beliefs, we resolve our internal contradictions not by changing our ideas but by denying the facts.
Our grand illusion was that these elections would give America closure. That the country would choose to go left or right. But everything continues as it was, now on a double track. One half of the nation on the left, the other on the right. Well, sometimes one half is the boss, then the other. For the past four years, the Democrats have lived in occupied territory under a foreign power. Now the Republicans can feel that. Some fear a new Civil War. But that’s nonsense. The new Civil War is not fought in fields and forests with bullets and cannons, but in the old and new media, with talking heads and tweets.
The new Mason-Dixon Line runs through the internet. Trump will continue his shadow government in Mar-a-Lago, which for many will become an alternative White House where the “real” president resides. Politicians will receive his blessing.
Just as he went on to play a successful tycoon on television, even though he was a failed businessman, he will now play a successful president on his own TV channel.
The fight, meanwhile, continues. First the Senate elections in Georgia, then Congress in two years, and before you know it, it’s … 2016 all over again. Trump is not a bad loser. He just can’t. He lacks the vocabulary. It remains a mystery how everyone continues to underestimate him, when he just does what he has always done. One definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Who’s crazy here?
Trump will never give in. He reminds me of the Black Knight in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” When King Arthur cuts off his arm, it’s “just a scratch.” The other arm “just a flesh wound.” Limping on one leg, he says he will always triumph. When he finally loses all his limbs, he shouts to the departing party, “Okay, we’ll call it a draw.”
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, “Saving Charlotte,” was published in 2017 in the U.S. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.