It’s over. Donald Trump is history.
For millions of Americans – a majority, by almost 5m popular votes – it’s a time for celebration and relief. Trump’s cruelty, vindictiveness, non-stop lies, corruption, rejection of science, chaotic incompetence and gross narcissism brought out the worst in America. He tested the limits of American decency and democracy. He is the closest we have come to a dictator.
Democracy has had a reprieve, a stay of execution. We have another chance to preserve it, and restore what’s good about America.
It will not be easy. The social fabric is deeply torn. Joe Biden will inherit a pandemic far worse than it would have been had Trump not played it down and refused to take responsibility for containing it, and an economic crisis exacting an unnecessary toll.
The worst legacy of Trump’s term of office is a bitterly divided America.
Judging by the number of ballots cast in the election, Trump’s base of support is roughly 70 million. They were angry even before the election (as were Biden supporters). Now, presumably, they are angrier.
The nation was already divided when Trump became president – by race and ethnicity, region, education, national origin, religion and class. But he exploited these divisions to advance himself. He didn’t just pour salt into our wounds. He planted grenades in them.
It is a vile legacy. Although Americans have strongly disagreed over what we want the government to do, we at least agreed to be bound by its decisions. This meta-agreement required enough social trust for us to regard the views and interests of those we disagree with as equally worthy of consideration as our own. But Trump continuously sacrificed that trust to feed his own monstrous ego.
Elections usually end with losing candidates congratulating winners and graciously accepting defeat, thereby demonstrating their commitment to the democratic system over the particular outcome they fought to achieve.
But there will be no graciousness from Trump, nor a concession. He is incapable of either.
He will be president for another two and a half months. He is still charging that the election was stolen from him, mounting legal challenges and demanding recounts, maneuvers that could prevent states from meeting the legal deadline of 8 December for choosing electors.
If he continues, America could find itself in a situation similar to what it faced in 1876, when claims about ballot fraud forced a special electoral commission to decide the winner, just two days before the inauguration.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump refuses to attend Biden’s inauguration and stages a giant rally instead.
He’ll send firestorms of aggrieved messages to his followers – questioning Biden’s legitimacy and urging that they refuse to recognize his presidency. This will be followed by months of rallies and tweets containing even more outlandish charges: plots against Trump and America by Biden, Nancy Pelosi, “deep-state” bureaucrats, “socialists”, immigrants, Muslims, or any other of his standard foes.
It could go on for years, Trump keeping the nation’s attention, remaining the center of controversy and divisiveness, sustaining his followers in perpetual fury, titillating them with the possibility he might run again in 2024, making it harder for Biden to do any of the national healing he’s promised and the nation so desperately needs.
How can Biden heal the nation when Trump doesn’t want it healed?
The media (including Twitter, Facebook, and even Fox News) could help. They have begun to call out Trump’s lies in real-time and cut off his press conferences, practices that should have started years ago. Let’s hope they continue to tag his lies and otherwise ignore him – a fitting end to a reality TV president who tried to turn America into a reality warzone.
But the responsibility for healing America falls to all of us.
For starters, we’d do well to recognize and honour the selflessness we have observed during this trying time – starting with tens of thousands of election workers who have worked long hours under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.
Add to them the hospital workers across the nation saving lives from the scourge of Covid-19; the thousands of firefighters in the west and the emergency responders on the Gulf coast battling the consequences of climate change; the civil servants getting unemployment checks out to millions of jobless Americans; social workers dealing with family crises in the wake of evictions and other hardships; armies of volunteers doling out food from soup kitchens.
These are the true heroes of America. They embody the decency of this land. They are doing the healing, rebuilding trust, reminding us who we are and who we are not.
Donald Trump is not America.
Credit: Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor.