After four and a half tense days of counting razor-thin results, former Vice President Joseph Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris won the presidential election. Last weekend, members of the Tufts community rejoiced, celebrating on the streets of Davis Square. President-elect Biden’s victory, along with a number of local Democratic wins, represents substantial progress and a movement toward a more equitable future; for many, faith in democracy has been temporarily restored. But while American democracy might have won a short-term reprieve this election season, it remains susceptible to ongoing efforts to undermine it. This election also highlighted the deep political divisions that continue to separate this nation and the glaring vulnerabilities of democratic institutions. In order to move forward and build a democracy that serves all of our communities, we must commit to continued civic action and engagement in the next four years and beyond.
The results of this year’s election offer some cause for hope. Biden and Harris have pledged to take immediate action in response to COVID-19, combat climate change and give Americans equitable access to affordable health care. In states like Delaware and Missouri, there were also significant local wins for the LGBTQ and Black communities. This would have not been possible without the grassroots organizations who fought diligently to protect every American’s right to vote, despite extensive efforts to suppress the voices of many, including people of color, college students and immigrants.
This election also indicated record-breaking civic engagement among young voters. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that as of Nov. 9, “50%-52% of voting-eligible young people, ages 18-29, cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election.” This marks an estimated 8%–10% increase in youth turnout when compared to the 2016 presidential election, a notable achievement of this year’s election. Furthermore, young voters of color were pivotal in determining the outcome of the election in swing states like Georgia and Arizona, as they demonstrated overwhelming support for Biden.
Civic engagement was also very apparent on Tufts’ campus in the months leading up to the election, as student organizations tirelessly mobilized to register new voters and campaign for progressive candidates. The significant impact of young voters on electoral results speaks to the salience of Tufts’ continued efforts to create a civically minded student body.
Despite these encouraging steps forward, it would be a mistake to define the election outcomes wholly in terms of progress. In spite of Trump’s blatantly racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric and his administration’s utter failure to address the pandemic, over 70 million Americans still voted for him. Depending on the outcomes of Georgia’s runoff elections, Republicans likely will keep a majority in the Senate, and some newly elected congressional representatives hold deeply concerning right-wing views. These electoral outcomes are a stark reminder of the deep-rooted divisions in this country as well as the persistent reluctance of the electorate to embrace many of the changes that American youth advocate for.
They also demonstrate the fragility of our democracy. President Trump has rejected the outcomes of the presidential election, making baseless claims of voter fraud and filing lawsuits to challenge the results. Although these efforts have thus far been ineffective, Trump’s overtly undemocratic rhetoric reminds us that our democracy is not a certainty, but rather a flawed system we must actively work to preserve.
While Biden’s victory may be a step forward, there is still much work to be done; Biden receives a broken nation rife with systemic racism, wealth inequality and political division. Restoration of American trust in democratic institutions will fall upon the upcoming administration. Although not a perfect politician, Biden can be much more effectively mobilized to produce sustainable change. Real change will only result from action — as young voters, we must pressure the upcoming administration to deliver on its promises and represent the voices of its constituents. In addition, we must capitalize on the momentum generated from this election to work toward further change on both local and state levels. One of the most pressing items on our agenda should be mobilizing voter turnout for the Georgia runoff elections, set to occur on Jan. 5.
The Trump administration compromised the integrity of American democracy, but it lives another day. As we look toward the next four years, it is necessary that we realistically reflect upon the prevailing flaws of this country and demand action on all fronts. Our work has only just begun, and it demands everyone’s involvement.