For many Democrats, election night in 2016 unfolded with the sickening trajectory of a horror movie in which the teenage protagonists break out the beer and party on, unaware that the serial killer they thought they had vanquished is looming outside the window.
The watch parties, the pantsuits, the balloons, the blue-tinted cocktails, the giddiness, the sense of history, the electoral projections showing that Hillary Clinton would surely defeat Donald J. Trump — to Democrats, these now look like quaint snapshots from some credulous prelapsarian world. And now, with the next presidential election approaching and Joseph R. Biden Jr. well ahead of President Trump in the polls, the traumatized, anxious Democratic voters of 2020 are not making the same mistake again.
“I’m assuming in my mind that Trump wins, because I can’t deal with being let down like that again,” said Helen Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side on the New York City Council. “Secretly, in a little corner in the back of my mind, I’m wishing and hoping that Biden wins. But most of my brain is saying, ‘OK, Trump wins and New York is not getting a fiscal bailout and we’re going to lose more ground on the environment, we’re going to lose on Roe v. Wade, we’re going to lose on health care.’”
“I’m already depressed about it, if that helps,” she added.
It’s hard to overstate the degree of anxiety in America right now, as the country confronts a Hydra of troubles: the pandemic, the economy, the fires, the protests, the violent plots against public officials, the assault on voting rights, the state-sponsored disinformation, the sense that democracy itself is on the ballot.