Our long national nightmare is over.
Donald Trump has lost the presidency. Americans have sent packing the man who made the lives of so many a hell for the past four years with constant chaos, unbridled vitriol and attacks on the foundations of democracy. There may be difficulty in the days ahead because of (gratuitous) court challenges and (baseless) claims of fraud. The rage he has induced in supporters and opponents alike will take time to dissipate. But for a moment, let us rejoice: Our democracy has survived.
Many of my colleagues in the press chatter about the disappointment Trump’s opponents must feel. The margin of victory wasn’t as big as polls predicted! Democrats didn’t win the Senate! Their House majority thinned! Divided America! Gridlock ahead!
But they don’t do justice to the historic victory that Democrats, independent voters and a brave few Republicans just pulled off. They denied a president a second term for the first time in 28 years — putting Trump in the company of Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. President-elect Biden — just writing that brings relief — received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, in an election with historically high voter turnout. A president who loves to apply superlatives can now claim a RECORD, HUGE and BIGGEST EVER defeat.
Biden likely will have flipped five states Trump won in 2016 plus part of Nebraska, and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will be the first woman, first African American and first Asian American in that role.
Ousting a demagogue with the loudest megaphone in the land is not an easy undertaking. Trump’s opponents had to overcome an unprecedented stream of disinformation and falsehoods from the president, even as his party normalized the assaults on truth, on facts, on science, on expertise. Trump’s opponents were up against a strongman who used the Justice Department, diplomats and the intelligence community to harass political opponents, who used federal police to suppress public demonstrations, who engaged in a massive campaign of voter intimidation and suppression, and who used government powers for political advantage: enlisting government employees to campaign for him, sabotaging postal operations, putting his name on taxpayer-funded checks, using the White House for a party convention. And Trump’s opponents had to contend with a Fox News cheering section and social-media landscape that insulated millions from reality.
Over time, the damage done to institutions, to alliances, to elections, to the federal workforce, to congressional power and to courts should be reversible. Had Trump won a second term, we may not have been able to recover. “I feel very confident the United States can repair after one term," Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton has said. “Two terms? I would be a little bit more worried."
The vitriol won’t vanish, but we won’t have a commander in chief fueling it at all hours. Crises will still come, but we won’t have a president fabricating them for his own ends. The highest office in the land won’t be a nightmarish daily reality show of self-dealing, racism, cruelty, insults, coddling of dictators, antagonizing of allies and authoritarian flourishes.
Trump, who had talked of postponing the election and refused to commit to honor its results or to transfer power peacefully, has shown his autocratic instincts anew this week. In the middle of the night after the polls closed, he announced that “we already have" won. He tweeted that same night, without a shred of truth, that “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election…” He later announced that “we hereby claim” the electoral votes of states he had not actually won. On Thursday night in the White House, he falsely proclaimed “there’s tremendous corruption and fraud going on.”
His supporters formed intimidating mobs outside polling offices where ballots were being tabulated, demanding “STOP THE COUNT!” in states where Trump was ahead (Pennsylvania) and, conversely, “COUNT THE VOTES” in states where he was behind (Arizona). The president fired off a score of tweets (“Ballot Counting Chaos,” “secretly dumped ballots”) trying to discredit the election with falsehoods and conspiracy theories. He has taken legal action in at least five states challenging the results or the vote counting.
There may be hard days ahead, depending on what Trump does. But there is so far little evidence that Americans, including most Trump supporters, have any enthusiasm for him disregarding the results of a free and fair election. Had he been given four more years to dismantle our institutions, there’s no telling what might have become of us. But history will record that in a dark hour for democracy, Americans rose to the moment and preserved their republic.