The passage of time has been distorted in 2020.
March took a century. April and May collectively lasted nine hours. And last week, Tuesday night dragged on for four extra days, until finally, on what should have been Saturday morning, the calendar was restored to normalcy.
America’s long election night was over. And Joe Biden was elected President of the United States.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking over the last week (alongside doomscrolling, and worrying, and panicking). I didn’t want to publish anything immediately after the election — the political waters in those seas are polluted by knee-jerk overreactions and unwavering loyalty to one’s preconceived notions. But this week, I want to take a look at what happened, and what comes next. It will be analytic; it will be somber. But first, it will be celebratory.
Because Joe Biden is the President-Elect of the United States.
Take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of his perserverance. He was first elected to the US Senate in 1972, but with great triumph came unbearable tragedy; his wife and one-year old daughter were killed in a car accident just weeks before his inauguration. He was a single parent raising two boys while working one of the most demanding jobs in the United States.
He’s faced professional setbacks as well. He ran for president in 1988, and failed. He ran for president in 2008, and failed — though serving as Barack Obama’s vice president was a hell of a consolation prize. As he contemplated another run at the presidency, tragedy struck once again; cancer, that remorseless killer, took the life of his eldest son Beau.
He faced more adversity as he announced his 2020 presidential campaign. President Trump saw Biden as a threat. He called him “sleepy,” suggested that he had lost a step, and–most egregiously–tried to strongarm Ukrainian officials into investigating Biden in the hopes of digging up any sort of dirt on his rival. Trump’s antics led to his impeachment (though not his removal). Deterred from directly attacking Biden, Trump launched broadsides against Biden’s son Hunter, weaving stories of a global cabal with Biden’s only surviving son at the center of the intrigue.
But this election was never about Biden, or Hunter, or nebulous allegations of “corruption.” It was a referendum on Donald Trump. His incessant demand for the spotlight made it so. The Republican Party is his cult of personality, its policies a ketchup-stained napkin with “whatever Donnie wants” scrawled upon it in thick felt Sharpie. Trump’s America is a cesspit of infighting, insults, and proclamation-by-Tweet. On November 3, voters got to decide if they wanted more of the same.
Biden is, to his very core, the anti-Trump. Where Trump scorns advice, Biden cherishes it. Where Trump craves attention, Biden gives it. Where Trump divides, Biden unites.
Trump had no political experience before assuming the presidency. His incompetency has a price: 237,000 American lives have been discarded like poker chips (with the number rising every day), and democratic norms and institutions have been tattered into confetti for Donald Trump to toss in the air and celebrate his own greatness. Biden, meanwhile, has over 40 years of political experience and a deep respect for American democracy and the American people.
In those 40 years, Joe Biden has made mistakes, like voting for the 1994 crime bill and supporting the war in Iraq. In his presidential campaign, he advocated for some policies that made Democrats–particularly those on the left–turn up their nose at the septuagenarian. But no one policy dominated the primary campaign; instead, voters begged for electability.
What even is electability? In 2020, it was Joe Biden. It was a message of restoration, not revolution. After the Charlottesville demonstrations, Biden wrote that America was in “a battle for the soul of this nation.” He’s talked incessantly about bringing people together to heal the wounds inflicted by Donald Trump. He may as well riff off Gene Kelly’s line from Singin’ in the Rain: Unity, Always Unity.
Those hoping Joe Biden will storm the barricades with revolutionary progressive fervor will be disappointed over the next four years — not just because Biden is a lifelong moderate, but because the institutional barriers to real change remain. The Senate will, barring an upset in the runoff elections in Georgia, likely remain in Republican hands. Progressive dreams of ending the filibuster and restoring the Voting Rights Act will die on the desk of Mitch McConnell. Expectations of a big blue wave were doused with cold reality as the Democrats actually lost seats in the House. Voters sent a signal that they’re tired of Trump — but not, however, that they’re fully on board with the menu of ideas proposed by the Democratic Party.
But there’s time enough to worry, and analyze, and understand. Indeed, I’ll be doing that throughout this week. Right now is a time for celebration, for the sweet release of four years of anxiety and tension. The United States has a decent man in the White House again, and despite repeated assaults by a wannabe authoritarian, our Republic–flawed though it may be–remains unbowed and unbroken.