Having peered into the abyss of autocratic nationalism, the American people have chosen to step back from the brink. The ballot counting will continue for a few days yet, but the math is what it is: Joe Biden will have the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, and likely many more. President Trump’s four-year assault on our democratic institutions and values will soon end.
The contest generated intense passions. In a year marked by the incalculable loss of life and the economic devastation of a pandemic, Americans turned out to vote in numbers not seen for generations, starting weeks before Election Day. Mr. Trump still knows how to draw a crowd — albeit not always to his advantage. In the end, it was Mr. Biden who captured more votes than any presidential candidate in U.S. history, while Mr. Trump captured the second-most votes in U.S. history.
The tally comes with disappointment on both sides: for Biden supporters, who hoped for a more resounding repudiation of Trumpism and for a Senate ready to enact their agenda, and for Trump supporters, who hoped for another four years and to chasten their critics. Fortunately for America, Mr. Biden promises to be a president for both sides — a welcome shift from a leader who has spent his tenure dividing the electorate into perceived fans and enemies.
While the coming weeks will most likely bring unexpected moves and more dangerous disinformation from Mr. Trump, it is worth taking this moment to raise a glass and breathe a sigh of relief. America gives its citizenry the ultimate responsibility for holding leaders accountable, for deciding what kind of nation this will be. The broad endorsement of Mr. Biden’s message of unity and healing is cause for celebration. Americans have embraced that optimism and Mr. Biden as their next president.
Now the real work begins.
Come January, Mr. Biden will take office facing a jumble of crises. His predecessor is leaving America weaker, meaner, poorer, sicker and more divided than four years ago. Recent events have laid bare, and often exacerbated, many of the nation’s pre-existing conditions: from the inadequacy of our health care system to the cruelty of our immigration policies, from entrenched racial inequities to the vulnerabilities of our electoral system. Mr. Biden has pledged himself to big thinking and bold action in tackling these challenges.
The electoral map suggests recovery will be neither quick nor easy. It is not yet clear what the precise composition of the Senate will be, but Republicans may hold the chamber. The government, like the nation, would remain divided.
Mr. Biden has made clear he wants to work across the aisle. That is his nature and his political brand. But today’s political climate is not the same as it was 50, or even five, years ago. Even as he seeks consensus, the new president must be prepared to fight for his priorities. Now is no time for timidity.
The American public should be prepared to do its part. People of good will and democratic ideals must not lose interest simply because Mr. Trump leaves center stage. They need to remain engaged in the political process and demand better from their leaders if any progress is to be made.
Mr. Trump’s message of fear and resentment resonated with tens of millions of Americans. Trumpism will not magically disappear. If anything, its adherents will very likely find renewed energy and purpose in marshaling a new resistance movement committed to undermining and delegitimizing the incoming administration.
Republicans will have to decide whether they will continue to wallow in political nihilism, or rise to meet the challenges of the moment. How Republicans respond to this loss, whether they seek to stoke or to cool partisan passions, will help determine the nation’s — and their party’s — path forward.
With the perspective of time, the Trump era is likely to be viewed as an extended stress test for the American experiment. The president did his best to undermine the nation’s democratic foundations. They were shaken, but they did not break. Mr. Trump exposed their vulnerabilities but also their strength. It now falls to Mr. Biden to improve and safeguard those foundations, to help restore faith in our democracy and ourselves — to make America greater than ever before.
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