We don’t yet know the outcome of the election, but its meaning is already clear. We are two countries, and neither of them is going to be conquered or disappear anytime soon. The outcome of the 2016 election was not a historical fluke or result of foreign subversion, but a pretty accurate reflection of the American electorate. The much-discussed Democratic majority that’s been emerging since the turn of the millennium is still in a state of emergence and probably will keep on emerging for years to come. The will of the majority is indeed blocked by undemocratic rules and unscrupulous politicians, but it’s a bare majority without enough numbers to govern. When America finally becomes the promised land dominated by tech-savvy Millennials, its political values will be far from certain.
Tens of millions of Americans love MAGA more than they love democracy. After four years of lawbreaking and norm-busting, there can be no illusions about President Donald Trump. His first term culminated in an open effort to sabotage the legitimacy of the election and prevent Americans from voting. His rallies in the final week of the campaign were red-drenched festivals of mass hate, autocratic self-absorption, and boredom, without a glimmer of a better future on offer—and they might have put Trump over the top in Florida and elsewhere. Even as “freedom-loving people” came out in unprecedented millions to vote, their readiness to throw away their republican institutions along with their dignity and grasp of facts suggests that many Americans have lost the basic qualities that the Founders believed essential to self-government. There is no obvious way to reverse this decline, which shows signs of infecting elements of the other side as well.