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How Trump did what Democrats couldn't

Let's make sure the circus of 2020 never finds another three-ring tent again.
Image: A girl holds a yellow placard that reads,\"We are the majority\".
A voting rights rally at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2020. Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

When President Joe Biden signed executive orders on voting and civil rights protections this week, he reaffirmed the national realization that the fight for fair, broad access to voting most likely saved American democracy in 2020.

Trump did what Democrats couldn’t do: He unified multicultural America against him.

But it also highlights the fact that former President Donald Trump did what Democrats couldn’t do: He unified multicultural America against him.

This argument unlocks a deeper exploration about how Biden won. It wasn’t one specific niche of voter alone that sent Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to the White House. It was a multicultural, disproportionately young wave that had been building for years that toppled Trump.

In this election cycle alone, 16 million Latinos voted — a 30 percent increase from 2016. Exit polling showed that as many as 6 in 10 Latinos voted for Biden, 7 in 10 when we count just Latinx youth, helping deliver the narrow margins in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona that propelled him to the White House.

In Georgia, with a Latino voter population of 4 percent, more Latinos voted early than had voted overall in both 2016 and 2018. The same was true for Asian Americans.

But before we get too swept up in this encouraging news, we need to look at the fact that the number of bills put forth that would potentially restrict voting rights is three times higher than a year ago. This signals a national, GOP-led push for election laws that hark back to white segregationists in the South passing Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century because they were scared of integration.

Earlier this month, Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), blew the whistle, saying the committee is encouraging state legislatures to take up measures about poll workers’ access and to pass “meaningful voter ID laws.”

In my 16 years leading the voting advocacy organization Voto Latino and working to enfranchise American Latinx youth in a country where someone turns 18 every 30 seconds, I’ve always felt the urgency of now. As an immigrant to the U.S. from Colombia, I was raised under Gov. Pete Wilson, the originator of show-me-your-papers resolutions that pit neighbor against neighbor.

We fled a broken country where civil rights leaders, judges and journalists were routinely targeted for pointing out corruption or seeking equity. Thirty years later, Trump was doing the same in America.

The day after Trump was inaugurated, millions around the world joined hands under the Women’s March banner to repudiate his platform.

And then the masses galvanized against him. The day after Trump was inaugurated, millions around the world joined hands under the Women’s March banner to repudiate his platform. Women who normally shrank from running for office mobilized in droves; in 2016, Emily’s List had 600 women request to run for office. By mid-2017, over 16,000 had sent in requests.

The anti-Trump revolt crossed gender and race. It stoked the embers in women repelled by his misogyny and documented abuse, in Americans of all creeds chilled by his “Muslim ban,” in Black people bearing the brunt of continued police brutality, in Latinos threatened for simply being brown. Republicans like those in The Lincoln Project took a stand and fought for our nation.

What makes America unique from struggling democracies is that we believe that our Constitution is achievable. We believe in the aspiration to be just, to be equal, to fulfill the promise of equity regardless of creed, orientation, gender or color. Democracy was not imposed on us — it is innate to us.

It’s in our historical makeup; it makes us American. One only need look at Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a conservative Republican who withstood death threats to certify the fidelity of his state’s election in spite of what some in his party said.

Still, we can’t forget that democracy barely survived this election. Or that now is when the real work begins. Trump left more than 400,000 dead in his wake, a deeply damaged economy, thousands of migrant children still separated from their parents and a country desperate to repair its reputation with its allies abroad. Still, more than 100 bills have been put forward that threaten voter access and rights on new levels.

There are two things the federal and state governments can do to maximize democracy in this country and ensure a level playing field for any future candidate for office, and for any potential voter.

First, we must ensure that there are repercussions for those whose actions, or inaction, led to the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. When you tweet something like, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” you need to pay a price. Trump did, and others must, too.

More than 100 bills have been put forward that threaten voter access and rights on new levels.

Although a multicultural America toppled Trump, the opposite could happen, too. An emboldened white supremacist minority could have been our democratic downfall. The Biden administration and Congress must prioritize identifying and rooting out white terrorist groups to prevent that from happening.

Second, we need to do the opposite of what the RNC is recommending and instead continue to expand fair access to voting, with massive investments in new technology and security features to ensure the circus of 2020 never finds another three-ring tent. For those of us who voted in November, we flexed our conscience. And for those who stood in line, putting their health and body at risk during a pandemic, the act was revolutionary. We should never again be forced to choose between our health and our democracy.

A multicultural America will thrive if we continue to nurture our democracy with participation and accountability. For the nation’s promise to be realized, we need equitable access to the booth regardless of zip code. So let’s get to work.