Tonya Jackson, (from left) Lori Johnson, Debra Thomas, Apple Johnson, and Dawn Frick celebrate in Cooper-Young after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election on Saturday. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50

Voters rejected another four years of racism, fear-mongering, hard-line immigration tactics and diplomatic isolationism by choosing Joe Biden as the nation’s next president.

With Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes for Biden, the Associated Press called the election Saturday. Kamala Harris will make history as the nation’s first Black, Asian American and woman vice president.

Biden immediately struck a conciliatory tone, tweeting: “ I will be a President for all Americans — whether you voted for me or not.” A bitter, angry, aggrieved President Donald Trump remained on brand; in a statement he vowed to continue to challenge the outcome in courts. The control of the U.S. Senate rests on the outcome of two run-off races in Georgia.

“This is a bittersweet victory for me,” said longtime Democrat Tajuan Stout Mitchell.

“This election highlighted the magnitude of our nation’s divide, but also the wisdom of our founding leaders in providing a document, the U.S. Constitution, that allows us to protect our democracy every four years.”

“Today, I will bask in the glory of it all and taste the sweetness of unity. Tomorrow, I will figure how I can help elect two democrats in sweet Georgia to the U.S. Senate.”

As the coronavirus rips through the country largely unchecked – with 9.7 million infections and more than 236,000 dead in the United States to date – the race was in part a referendum on the president’s mangled management of the pandemic.

Related: “I’m holding out hope, but just a little glimmer.” Progressives dare to dream as a Biden-Harris path to victory emerges

Still, Trump’s defeat feels like a form of liberation, Memphians said, even as they acknowledge that Biden, who has courted moderates, is by no means a savior.

“I will feel delivered and set free,” said Rev. Rosalyn Nichols, a 56-year-old Whitehaven resident and pastor of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church, anticipating Biden’s win. “But I also don’t think [the country] will miraculously change.”

“If these last four years have taught us — and the eight years with [former President Barack] Obama — is that one leader cannot in and of themselves be messiah for us.”

The spirit moved Pastor Rosalyn Nichols of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church DOC at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Oct. 16 as the Rev. William Barber brought his message and mission of social justice to Memphis. Photo by Kirstin L. Cheers for MLK50.

Locally, there were no surprises: All 11 of Tennessee’s electoral votes went to Trump, although Shelby County voters chose Biden by a nearly 2-1 margin.

For Clara Daschund, a 29-year-old Brazilian immigrant with a 3-year-old daughter, four years of a Trump administration has meant anxiety over her immigration status, though she’s a permanent resident. A Biden win puts her at ease.

“What changes is for me, in a practical way, is the ability to raise my daughter without having to really think and worry about every second every day for the next four years,” she said. She’s been encouraging others to vote even though legally she can’t.

“Obviously, this president – Trump – he gets away with everything. He doesn’t really follow protocol or the law and it’s almost like nothing can stop him. So even though I know I shouldn’t worry about it, I still worry about it.”

Clara Daschund and her daughter, Guinnevere McGrath, 3, watch election coverage on her laptop while at home on Wednesday night. There were still several key states whose electoral votes were hanging in the balance. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

Daschund, who lives in Midtown, has no real enthusiasm for Biden, but she didn’t expect Trump to have so much support. Tight races in so many states have convinced her that Trump’s base didn’t just turnout once – they’re now the status quo.

Black male Trump support “bitter” pill

Joining that base – a disturbing surprise to some – are Black men. Trump’s support among Black male voters increased to 18%, up from 13% in 2016, according to an NBC poll of early and Election Day voters.

In contrast, Black male voters’ support for Biden was at 80%, down from 82% for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 87% for Barack Obama in 2012, and 95% in 2008, the NBC poll found.

Black women stood firmly Democratic, handing Biden 91% of their vote, but that was still a drop from 94% for Clinton in 2016 and 96% for Obama in 2012.

Anticipating a Biden win, Stout Mitchell – who, like Harris, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – dashed down some thoughts. 

Tajuan Stout Mitchell. Photo provided by Stout Mitchell.
Bittersweet victory.
Sweet Biden will win.
Bitter taste that the country is so racist.
Sweet that we narrowed the Senate.
Bitter that we didn't get McConnell out of leadership.
Sweet there was no violence.
Bitter that the political struggle the next four years will be so hard.
Sweet unity among Black Women.
Bitter taste that 20% of Black Men won’t support us like we do them.
Bittersweet 2020.

Stout Mitchell is particularly anticipating a change in the handling of the pandemic under Biden. As of Saturday, 583 people in Shelby County have died of COVID-19, about 63% of whom were Black, and the positivity rate in the county is ticking back up. 

The 67-year-old retiree said she’s been stuck in her house in Whitehaven since March, and recently made the tough decision with her husband to not have Thanksgiving with her grandchildren. 

“We really can’t take that risk,” she said, choking up. “And I miss my children. I really do.”

She’s hopeful that under a Biden presidency, the government will project a clear, consistent, and science- and evidence-based message to fight the virus.

“I think he will listen to the doctors and the scientists,” said Stout Mitchell, who was twice elected to both the Memphis City School Board and the Memphis City Council.  

“We really elect officials not to be our doctors or our scientists, not to be our engineers, not to be our historians, but we elect them to hear the best advice from the best experts and take that information and make policy.” 

“Picking an enemy to fight next year”

Before the election was called, Nour Hantouli, a 32-year-old apprentice tattoo artist, said they’d lost their ability to have feelings about the race.

“I’m living on a pendulum between panicking and disassociating,” Hantouli said, who uses the pronouns they/them. 

Nour Hantouli stands for a portrait at home in 2017. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

Hantouli, who lives in Midtown, didn’t vote in 2016 because they see both major parties as “enemies” who serve the same function of protecting the rich and capitalism, and didn’t see how their vote would make a difference. 

But in 2017, Hantouli worked for a trauma reduction center for immigrants newly released from detainment at the border and traveling through Memphis. Hantouli said the experience convinced them to vote, only to stop Trump’s presidency.

“When I chose to support the Democratic Party this year, it was a struggle and full of remorse and insecurity and questioning myself, but I finally made peace with it because I realized I’m not helping select a leader, [I’m] picking an enemy to fight next year,” Hantouli said. “I think it’s better to fight [the Democratic Party] than to fight pure fascism.”

Hantouli said Biden’s first agenda item should be his promise to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented Americans. But they worry that Biden is too eager to compromise with Republicans on issues too important for compromise.

“Biden has shown much more concern with the swing voter than the person who is disillusioned and not participating at all,” Hantouli said. “He’s much more concerned with compromising and reaching across the aisle than doing what’s right.”

Name calling backfires on sore “loser” 

For all his bluster and bravado, Trump, who owes as much as $421 million in personal debt, much of it to a foreign bank, and faces multiple investigations into possible fraud regarding his business dealings as a private citizen, is fixated on failure.

And indeed, Trump has mused that he’d leave the country if voters chose his opponent. “Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose?” he said at a Georgia campaign rally in mid-October.

“My whole life, what am I going to do?… Maybe I’ll have to leave the country? I don’t know,” he said as the crowd laughed.

He’s projected his fear of defeat most keenly at the armed forces.

Trump disparaged members of the military who were captured or killed, calling them losers, according to allegations first reported in The Atlantic in September. Trump, who dodged the draft five times during the Vietnam War, including by claiming he had bone spurs, was angered when flags were lowered to half-staff for the August 2018 funeral of Republican senator and Vietnam War hero John McCain, the report said.

“What the f—- are we doing that for? Guy was a f—-ing loser,” an Atlantic source quoted Trump as stating. 

Also, in 2018 the president cancelled a visit to a U.S. cemetery outside Paris because it was “filled with losers,” the article said.

In 2015, candidate Trump said about McCain: “He’s not a war hero.” He added, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

“I will feel delivered and set free” 

Nichols, the pastor, has been thinking of what message she wants to deliver to her congregation on Sunday. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was her first choice for the Democratic nomination — not Biden —  but she says his ability to understand sorrow and grief could help Americans reconcile with what the past four years has revealed about the country. 

Biden’s first wife and daughter died in a car accident in 1972 just before he was sworn into office as a U.S. Senator from Delaware. His son, Beau Biden, the former Attorney General of Delaware, died in 2015 from brain cancer. 

“He will give room for us to acknowledge our collective grief,” Nichols  said. “We’ve lost the ability to use our freedom to help somebody else be free. We need, as a nation, a moment to lament where we are right now.” 

“We need to start talking about raising wages”

Rob Brown, owner of a food stand called “Da Sammich Spot,” went to prison for eight years and served three years of probation for a robbery conviction when he was 18 years old. That felony conviction left Brown, now 31, disenfranchised by the state – unable to participate in this important election.  

This has made him jaded toward politics.

Rob Brown sits on top of a car while helping to marshal a Black Trans Lives Matter protest in Midtown in June 2020. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

“Y’all say these (are) the human rights, so I’m never human again after a mistake, I guess,” Brown said.

“My goal with that was just to, in some kind of way, make our voices heard,” Brown said.

Brown wanted to see Trump replaced because he feels Trump is a narcissist and his presidency a ruse for his business interests. But no matter the victor, Brown said he would be skeptical that either candidate will prioritize the needs of working-class people, which starts with getting a handle on the pandemic, he said.

“That affects the working class more than anybody because they’re the ones that have to be in service to people who aren’t going to get out here,” Brown said.

The needs of people like himself and his neighbors in Whitehaven are more important to him than the spectacle of the presidential election.

“Immediately deal with this pandemic stuff, but then we need to start talking about raising wages, making sure people get free health care, making sure people get free education. That’s stuff that we need.”

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