For liberals, good news has been a long time coming. So don’t feel inhibited about celebrating two key moments, says IAN DUNT.
There’s been some kind of glitch in the Matrix. We seem to have ended up in a tolerable reality.
When we woke up last Wednesday morning, things were operating as normal. Joe Biden looked like he was heading for defeat in the US. The forces of prejudice and idiocy were triumphant. This was as expected. It’s been the dominant narrative since 2016.
And then things shifted. The Democrat-skewed mail-in votes came in from key swing states and Biden slowly built up a lead. On Saturday afternoon UK time, the broadcasters finally called the race for the Democrats, triggering a burst of euphoria in cities across America and social media screens across the UK.
Donald Trump’s weeks of threats about refusing to allow a peaceful transfer of power went from a horror story to something approaching a comedy. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in what might possibly be the most enjoyable moment of political theatre in half a decade, was reduced to holding a press conference between a crematorium and a sex shop after mixing up the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia with the Four Seasons Total Landscaping garden centre down the road.
This wasn’t just an electoral victory. It felt more like a moment of spiritual transcendence, as if the gene code of the universe was conspiring to make a mockery of Trump and all he represented.
Then, on Monday, news emerged from Pfizer and BioNTech that preliminary results showed a coronavirus vaccine could have over 90% effectiveness. Senior scientists were talking in almost inconceivably optimistic tones about life going back to something like normal as early as the spring.
It was honestly hard to figure out what was going on. We’d become so used to bad news that these sudden moments of joy were startling. It was as if the sun was rising on the first day of summer in Antarctica.
What can we conclude from all this? The first and most important thing is that it’s OK to feel unbridled joy and just bask in the warmth of it for a while.
Liberals for some reason struggle to do this. No sooner had news of the US election result been confirmed than people were rushing to their keyboards to remind each other of the dark clouds that lay on the horizon. Brexit could not be stopped. The Democrats had not secured the Senate. The poisons which gave root to Trumpism had not yet been pulled from the earth.
And all of that was true. There are no happy endings in politics. The struggle which liberalism faces against nationalism takes place across the world and will take years to resolve. But we should savour the wins when they come. God knows we haven’t had any for some time.
Biden’s victory showed that nationalism was beatable. That, in the end, was a large part of the relief which followed the election announcement. For years, authoritarian election success seemed almost inevitable, a terrible sharp-glassed wave which could not be stopped, heralding the start of a dark new political era. But that is wrong. They can be defeated. They can be stopped. And what was done in the US can be done in the UK too.
The US election held several lessons for British progressives. Of course, because this is politics, most people rushed to analyse events in a way that suited their pre-existing views.
Corbynites, for instance, stressed how close it was and acted as if Biden had come within a hair’s-breadth of missing a shot at an open goal. The nativist right had the same analysis – of a narrow loss which could be easily reversed in 2024.
But in fact the result was not that close, it just felt that way because of the sequence in which the numbers came in.
Biden won the popular vote comprehensively and built a solid lead in the electoral college. He won with the largest democratic mandate of any president in US history.
It wasn’t the longed-for landslide – Trump increased his vote from 2016 – but it wasn’t tight either. It was a conclusive, comprehensive victory.
In the Labour party, centrists and the hard left will now descend into their usual tug-of-war over the result. The centrists will say that it needed a unifying figure who did not spook more conservative voters to win and the left will say that it was only possible because of their activist enthusiasm and organisation.
In fact, both are right. It showed that progressive political parties can defeat nationalism if liberals and the left work together.
It showed what was possible if the pointless internecine rivalry is put to one side for a moment and all attention devoted to removing nationalists from power. It showed that there are reasons for hope. In a few years, we can replicate the result here.