Joseph R. Biden has been elected the 46th president of the United States, and much of the nation, and the world, is breathing a sigh of relief. Going to the White House with him is Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — the first woman, first Black woman, and first Indian American to hold a nationwide elected office.
After a prolonged count, Biden secured victory by winning key states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, to give him the 270 votes needed to win the Electoral College. The Trump administration has filed lawsuits and demands for recounts in key states. Even though Biden’s margins were smaller than the polls predicted, they are beyond what’s reasonable to expect a campaign could gain from a recount.
When Biden announced his candidacy in April 2019, he ran on a message of healing a divided nation that had been further torn by a White House with a habit of sowing division and coddling hate groups and white supremacists. In accepting the nomination, he said: “This is a great nation. We’re a good and decent people. For Lord’s sake, this is the United States of America. There’s never been anything we’ve been unable to accomplish when we’ve done it together.” At moments, his message sounded quaint or out of touch. But the coronavirus pandemic and the outcry against racial injustice that 2020 brought have made that message of unity more important than ever. Throughout this year, America has been a nation inflicted with loss — of life, livelihoods, liberties, and life as we knew it. Biden, who has experienced tremendous loss in his life, drew on empathy to provide hope.
In a few months, President Joe Biden will bring his empathy, diplomacy, and decency to the Oval Office — attributes that the West Wing hasn’t seen in four years.
Unfortunately, the victory of the Biden-Harris ticket wasn’t a decisive rejection of Donald Trump, his corrosive and divisive brand of politics, and the Republican Party that enabled him.
Trump’s presidency will be on any list of historic nadirs of this republic. Trump spent four years in office eroding trust in institutions from the Justice Department to the Supreme Court, eviscerating the norms that keep democracy going, and threatening the rights of anyone not considered part of his “base.”
Inheriting a pandemic, a severe economic crisis, and a gutted executive branch, President Biden and Vice President Harris have a herculean task ahead of them.
But good — even great — progress can come from the right leadership. In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave America the New Deal. In response to civil rights strife, President Lyndon B. Johnson implemented his Great Society agenda. The Biden administration has a chance to equal those moments with its own bold approach to the challenges our nation faces — and to repair the cracks in American democracy that the last four years revealed.
Our nation’s long nightmare is far from over, and there is much work ahead.
Since the Democrats didn’t appear to manage to flip the Senate’s control, Biden will have to find ways to work with Mitch McConnell and a Congress intent on putting partisanship over progress. That will make it harder for Biden to advance his agenda, but four decades of Senate experience between Biden and Harris could prove critical.
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This election suggested that the gulf between one set of Americans and another has calcified into something darker than mere disagreement, a rift that challenges our very identity as a united state. It is now the job of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to narrow that divide. That won’t be accomplished in 100 days or even four years, but once again the United States will at least have a president who is willing to try.