Amidst all the gloom about our still bitterly divided country — laid bare by the election and President Trump’s ugly reactions — I offer some perspective from an unlikely source.
Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader recovering in Berlin from a near fatal poisoning, saw our painful voting process as positive. Keep in mind that he plans to return to a country where the Kremlin rigs elections, bans him from running, and murders opponents.
“Woke up and went on Twitter to see who won,” Navalny tweeted on Wednesday. “Still unclear. Now that’s what I call elections.”
In that vein, let me try to extract some positive election news. Of course, the best news is that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. President Trump is a failed leader responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary COVID-19 deaths, who has degraded his office and trampled on democratic norms. Nothing better illustrates his autocratic instincts than his attempts to stop the count of votes and label the election a fraud.
Yes, I know that Trump won’t go quietly, and will keep stoking fear and rage among the nearly half of U.S. voters who backed him. And I realize that a split government with a likely Democratic president and a GOP Senate majority is a formula for continued paralysis in getting things done.
Moreover, America’s adversaries such as China and Russia are poised to take advantage if the country continues to be riven by divisions and violence.
But here are a few reasons to hope a Biden presidency will be able to advance on critical issues like COVID-19 and economic revival, which, in turn, would show the world that American democracy was not faltering.
With Biden in the White House, Trump will no longer have his bully pulpit to spread lies and conspiracy theories. Yes, he will still tweet, and may even start his own Trump TV since Fox is not sycophantic enough.
Yet Trump’s tweets, which had to be followed closely when they represented presidential policy statements, won’t command similar attention when he is an ex-president. Responsible media can ignore them. And if the president continues to rant about a stolen election, even some of his followers may tire of his tirades.
Moreover, as president, Joe Biden will be particularly suited to reach out to an exhausted country with his message that he is governing as president of the United States, not as the president of blue or red states.
True, that message didn’t inspire a blue wave during the election when Trump’s rallies were dominating the airwaves. But there is much a President Biden can say from the White House to counter the lies Trump told about his program, and would appeal to voters across party lines.
A look at election exit polls gives lots of clues as to how Biden could proceed.
One of the first issues he has pledged to address is a desperately needed national strategy for countering the surge in COVID-19. On the surface, according to CNN exit polls, this issue seems totally divisive, with 6 in 10 Trump supporters calling the economy their top issue, while just 5% citing the coronavirus. On the other hand, 3 in 10 Biden supporters name COVID-19 as tops, and only a tenth name the economy.
However, a clear presidential message explaining the links between crushing the virus and opening the economy, and clarifying that total shutdowns are not desirable, might make some headway. Especially as cases and fatalities continue to rise in Trump territory.
Moreover, 7 in 10 voters view wearing a face mask as a public health responsibility, including half of Trump supporters. These are figures Biden can build on to try to rally much of the country around a theme of “we can lick this together.” Sports stars and figures respected across party lines can stand united with him on this — in front of the White House flag.
And Biden can appeal to working-class whites (a chunk of whom switched back to blue), along with many Hispanics who voted red, by debunking the “socialist-communist” tag that Trump falsely hung on him. Solid proposals on infrastructure and expanded Obamacare — explained from the White House — could rally sufficient public support to convince some GOP senators to join in pushing them through.
And finally, Biden can — and must — clarify to Americans how Trump-driven divisions, including on race, feed our adversaries’ beliefs that they will advance as U.S. democracy self-destructs. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s triumphalist speeches make clear his view that American democracy is decaying. So do Vladimir Putin’s scornful remarks.
Without bipartisan efforts to rebuild the economy for all and boost technological competition with China, America will fulfill Xi’s dreams.
This country’s future, at home and abroad, depends on whether Biden’s bully pulpit can convince enough GOP voter, and senators that we need to restore a functional government. At least with Trump gone, the country has a chance.