In the end, former Vice President Joe Biden’s call for unity, optimism and long record of public service won out. He will be the next president of the United States, to be sworn in on Jan. 20.
The margin was narrow in many states, and a deeply split nation was held in suspense while votes were counted in a fiercely contested race fought amid a pandemic. Nevertheless, record turnout — much of it by early and mail-in voting — not only gave the popular vote to Biden, it gave him the largest number of votes for a presidential candidate in U.S. history.
The victory is historic in another way: Sen. Kamala Harris will be the first woman and Black and Indian American to become vice president. In contrast to President Donald Trump, Biden and Harris pulled off their win without super-spreader rallies, and without many of the accoutrements of physical campaigning, and found ways to reach supporters that may forever alter campaigning. Support from Democratic candidates to the left of Biden — including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Georgia — kept the party together.
Biden and Harris now have the opportunity to lead the nation in trying to turn the page from the divisive, often chaotic Trump years — no small task.
From ignoring public health experts in a pandemic, to hollowing out the State Department and filling the highest levels of government with cronies, to demonstrating wanton cruelty toward immigrants and anyone who crossed him, Trump failed to put the country first as he played to his political base.
He was bitter to the very end, prematurely declaring victory and then filing lawsuits and threatening to drag the U.S. Supreme Court into his frantic attempt to hold power, unwilling to accept the judgment of the American people. His Thursday news conference was a pathetic airing of grievances that should draw a strong rebuke from Republicans across the nation.
Earlier Thursday — while Trump holed up in the White House writing tweets so inflammatory and misleading that Twitter felt compelled to block some of them — Biden was in a briefing on the pandemic. He has pledged to launch an effective national strategy to combat coronavirus as cases surge across the country and in Minnesota.
Biden likely will not have the Democratic Senate he had hoped for. Runoffs and vote totals may change, but for now it appears Sen. Mitch McConnell will continue to lead a GOP Senate. But Biden will need McConnell’s cooperation, as well as that of a Democratic House with a robust progressive faction. McConnell worked alongside Biden in the Senate for many years, starting in 1985. Both men will need to work together, for the good of the entire country.
Before the election, Trump refused to say he would accept a peaceful transfer of power, and he showed no signs Thursday that he will put the country before himself. Now he must. The Senate and House must join forces to ensure that an aggrieved, combative lame-duck president is not allowed to cause further havoc on his way out.
As Biden prepares to assume the awesome powers of the presidency, the gravity of his task is daunting. He must set a new course on the pandemic, reset battered relationships with allies and help lead an economic recovery.
Almost as important will be rebuilding a competent federal government that reflects the values of this nation; one in which every public servant at every level recognizes that the only loyalty they owe is to the Constitution, the laws of this country and fellow Americans. One in which civility, respect and integrity are a baseline.
As a political figure, Biden harks back to a different time, providing a comfort level for many voters. But it won’t be enough to go back to where we were before COVID hit. That economy, that America, left too many people behind and sowed some of the seeds of anger and resentment that brought Trump forth.
The job now is to build forward, and this time leave no one behind. Not people of color, not women, not the working class, not the disabled, not small businesses, not immigrants. To move past Trump and Trumpism, all of us must find common goals that unite us as one America, battered but wiser for having looked into the abyss of a polarization so deep that it threatened this nation’s future.