It’s not over till the senile guy talks gibberish. It might not be over for days. The election may shift to the courts, to be contested like history’s most important parking ticket. Regardless of who wins — and the true professionals of prediction, the bookmakers, now have Donald Trump odds-on — Donald Trump has already done the impossible. He has won the moral high ground.
Since 2016, the Democrats and most of the media have told us that Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was an electoral and moral aberration. That Trump was not Hugh Hefner, but ‘Drumpf’ the white supremacist. That the voters, chastened by four years under the orange flag of fascism, would recognise their error as a sin and repent. That in 2020 the United States would return to the old normal, and the permanent class of professional politicians could get back to its statesmanlike duty of soliciting cash in brown envelopes, signing off on idiot policies like invading Iraq and dismantling the industrial base, and telling the trash not to cling to guns, religion and other symbols of chronic whiteness.
Trump’s moral illegitimacy made his victory more of an insult to decency, and more of a threat to democracy, than the brawls over the hanging chads of Florida in 2000. The media went further: Trump reeked not just of vulgarity, but of micturant nights with Russian prostitutes and, worse, the foul vapours of white nationalism. He wasn’t just a whoremonger: he would monger wars too.
The pollsters, dismally, followed the Democratic line almost unanimously. They told us that Trump had no chance: Biden was heading for a landslide victory.
These were the stakes that the Democrats set, even as they gambled on Biden, the master of malapropism, a man so addled that he struggles even to place his foot in his mouth. And if those were the stakes, then the Democrats lost the moment it became clear that Trump had won in Florida, and then Ohio. There is no Democratic landslide.
By three in the morning, when Trump modestly declared that he had ‘frankly won the election’, only one state, Arizona, had changed its mind. Blue or red, the lines of 2016 have remained solid. Biden had failed to break through in any of them — despite the moral blackmailing, despite the media gaslighting, despite the fake news from the polling companies, despite the ludicrous claim that deaths from Covid-19 were somehow all Trump’s fault.
Whatever happens next, the solidity of Trump’s support has confirmed that there is no going back. The voters know who he is. They are not interested in his morals, but in his politics. These are not just the politics of repudiation: they also contain the promise of economic and social recovery.
Now, politics is not morality. If it were, we would not have had Trump as president in the first place. But the narrowness of this result vindicates Trump’s unlikely moralising: his attacks on elite corruption, his exposure of the contempt in which the governors hold the governed.
The issues that we summarise as ‘populism’ are real and cannot be wished away. Trump has remade American politics, because American politics are being remade by the voters. Trump’s endurance, let alone his possible victory, confirm this. He, of all people, has told the truth to Americans.