The Other Election

The Alternative Reality

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 06: Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest election results at the Maricopa County Elections Department office on November 6, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. Three days after the U.S. presidential election, Democratic nominee Joe Biden's vote count continued to grow nationwide as protesters staged demonstrations outside vote counting centers in critical battleground states. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)


And still, we wait.

But not really, because the outcome of the 2020 election for the American presidency is clear. The Democratic ticket, headed by former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, is ahead in the key states of Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Biden does not need the electoral votes of all of them to put him over the 270 electoral votes he needs to win. It appears mathematically impossible for Trump suddenly to retake control of those states.

Tonight, with Harris beside him, Biden spoke to the nation. He acknowledged it is frustrating not to have a declared winner in the election, but urged people to be patient as election workers count every ballot: a process at the center of our democracy. He promised that he and Harris are already at work, receiving briefings on the coronavirus pandemic and the faltering economy, and that the country had its work cut out for it with those issues, along with climate change and systemic racism, but that we could solve them if we work together. Once again, he called for unity and promised to govern for everyone, not simply for those who had voted for him.

Biden had intended to make a victory speech, but the media seems oddly reluctant to call the election. That reluctance is odd enough that people are speculating as to why, suggesting that media administrators are afraid of the president’s fury or eager to milk the cliff-hanger situation for viewers. My own guess is that, with the president lashing out at what he insists without evidence is a fraudulent election, they are determined to have all the votes counted before making a final call.

For Trump is, indeed, lashing out: at his lawyers, his aides, election officials, and his opponents. He is allegedly having a hard time believing he lost.

He clearly intends to continue reshaping the government while he retains the office of the presidency: in the three days since the election he has gotten rid of the leaders of the three agencies in charge of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons, the regulation of natural gas and electricity, and aid to foreign countries. Administration officials did not give a reason for the ousters, but it seems clear he is purging the administration of officials he considers insufficiently loyal.

Trump’s supporters are also having a hard time believing he lost. A top campaign official used his own texting company to send out thousands of text messages telling supporters that the Democrats were stealing the election and urging them to rally in Philadelphia to protest. Two heavily armed men drove from Virginia and showed up Wednesday to attack the counting center in the city.

Supporters have also forced an election worker in Atlanta, Georgia, into hiding after a right-wing YouTuber posted a video of him throwing away a piece of paper and claiming it was a ballot. The video, along with the worker’s personal information, went viral. According to Richard Barron, the elections director for Fulton County, the worker was, in fact, properly discarding an instruction sheet.

This election was not particularly close, but pundits warn that the fact that 70 million Americans voted for Trump and 74 million and counting voted for Biden shows that we live in two very different Americas, and that, for all his talk of unity, Biden will have a hard time finding common ground with Trump supporters.

Pundits suggest that the two different political ideologies in America are about values and principles, but it actually seems that the primary difference between the two camps is between those who are living in a fictional world, created by generations of right-wing media, and those who are living in the real world, the so-called “reality-based community.” According to political historian Rick Perlstein, a scholar of the right, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has been telling listeners that Democrats have stolen the election, and urging his listeners to abandon the Republican establishment, which did not sufficiently back Trump.

Entertainment personality Alex Jones is more extreme. He showed up to the Maricopa County, Arizona, counting center, where he told the crowd that “The Bidens are Communist Chinese agents” and urged listeners to fight “those scumbag Nazi bastards.” Jones owns a far-right conspiracy theory website aptly named InfoWars. According to an article by Veit Medick in Der Spiegel, about two-thirds of his income comes from the merchandise he sells to combat the conspiracies he talks about.

The Republicans’ alternative reality is quite literally deadly. Although 82% of Trump voters believe the pandemic is at least somewhat under control, today America had more than 122,000 new infections, and more than 1100 people died. An analysis by the Associated Press shows that 93% of the 376 counties with the highest numbers of coronavirus cases per capita voted for Trump. That deadliness might, in the end, create common ground with the Democrats who urge mask wearing and social distancing. “I think there’s the potential for things to get less charged and divisive,” Dr. Marcus Plescia of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials told the AP.

On October 25, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the White House was no longer going to try to control the pandemic, but was instead going to focus on finding drugs and a vaccine to treat it. Tonight, it came out that Meadows and four other White House aides have contracted the coronavirus. The people who knew were told to keep it a secret. Meadows has been participating in White House events this week—including a gathering on election night—without a mask.


Addressing the right-wing media’s construction of a false narrative for its supporters seems crucial to restoring sanity to the country’s politics. How that might play out is unclear, in part because Trump’s extremism seems to be driving a wedge into the right-wing ecosystem. Limbaugh and Jones are following Trump, but QAnon, which promised that Trump and the military were in control and that Trump would ride to victory, is suddenly adrift. Believers thought he would bring “The Storm,” which would destroy the pedophile-cannibals in the Democratic Party. But now, Trump is losing and “Q” went silent after the election until tonight, when it simply told followers to stay strong.

In contrast to Trump’s true believers, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is turning on the president. The New York Post is dismissing the Trump family’s claims of a fake election, and the Fox News Channel was the first to call Arizona for Biden on Tuesday, undercutting Trump’s ability to claim a premature victory.

Tonight, looking directly at the camera, Laura Ingraham gave a monologue on her Fox News Channel show about how Trump should leave the White House with grace and become a party kingmaker for the future. Ingraham appeared to be talking to Trump supporters, but it was clear she was talking directly to Trump himself.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.