Joe Biden won. He is the president-elect. He will be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021.
While I’m not so naive as to think this is the and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after moment, the bottom line is that Donald Trump is defeated and will do less damage from the sidelines than he has from the Oval Office.
Never underestimate him: He’s got two months-plus to vandalize our country. But the clock ticks, and soon we’ll have a leader who, if nothing else, recognizes the existence of COVID-19 and the urgent need to fight it. Instead of a fey goofball who said, repeatedly, that COVID is a Democratic hoax that will magically disappear Nov. 4. (Keep that in mind every time Trump insists, based on nothing, that he won. The lying liar lies. Why is anyone still giving his claims any weight at all?)
I’ll confess. Though not given to optimism, I thought this would be easier. That Trump’s manifest unfitness would do him in. I don’t like to think poorly of my fellow Americans, even Republicans. I figured between Trump’s attempted blackmail of Ukraine, his utter failure to cope with the pandemic or get the millions of unemployed workers and shuttered businesses the support they desperately need, people would sour on him.
Instead, he nearly won again. It was scary, as the votes were tabulated — first those cast on Election Day by careless Republicans, then the ballots mailed in weeks earlier by cautious Democrats. Trump surged then fell back. We knew that would happen. But the knowledge didn’t help as events unfolded. Seeing that transpire was still hard, the way that knowing that hitting your thumb with a hammer will hurt, and actually hitting your thumb with a hammer, are two very different experiences.
Last week was not pleasant. The pain of drenched hope. And then, in the sodden ashes, a flicker. I forced myself to tune into Trump’s address to the nation Thursday night, and while shocking, it was in a strange way encouraging. He did not seem a winner, not someone ready to bulldoze his way into a second term. He was a guy who lost; a beaten, broken, pathetic figure.
I’m not worried about Trump’s possible legal machinations. He does that: threaten and bully and sue. His attempts to overturn the election based on fraud will founder on there being no fraud. Voter fraud is, in general, the fig leaf that Republicans clutch when limiting voting by folks they don’t want casting ballots. Overturning the 2020 election based on fraud would be as likely as overturning it because of ghosts.
Myself, I feel grateful for our governmental system. States’ rights got a bad name in the 1960s, when segregationists invoked them to try to ward off civil rights. But we’ve seen how, with an unstable despot clutching federal power, at the state level, Americans still did their jobs. Governors and county clerks and countless unheralded local officials: election judges, poll workers, volunteers, ballot counters and postal carriers. We get all teary about British civilians jumping into their pleasure craft to pluck their trapped soldiers off the beach at Dunkirk in 1940. But we should give a hurrah for the plain clothes army of election bureaucracy who stood at their posts, did their duty, sometimes while armed MAGA mobs screamed outside. Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude.
It’s too much to wish that Trump will find the decency that has always eluded him. If there is a graceless, bitter, destructive path out the door, he will find it. I wouldn’t dream of imagining what that might be. Trump’s true genius is being vile in a way that beggars imagination.
That 70 million Americans still prefer him, well, we now have four years to chew on that mystery. They also voted for senators who failed to get them the relief funds they desperately need. Maybe they prefer promises to results. My faith in my country is such, I’m hoping they’ll come around, eventually. If they don’t, we’ll have to drag them, shuffling forward with their arms locked around our ankles. It’s the whining I find hardest to take.
Anyway, the sun is out, a rare warm November day. The greatest threat to face the United States since the British torched the White House has been vanquished. Congratulations to all involved. Joy reigns.