In the ensuing hours, the celebration grew. People were literally dancing in the streets. Hard hats were pumping their fists. One woman unfurled an American flag and blew a trumpet. A man uncorked a bottle of champagne and sprayed it everywhere. “This is better than a Giants Super Bowl win,” I heard one guy say.
For me, VT Day — Victory over Trump — ended with a champagne toast on a neighbor’s rooftop with a stunning view of the sunset over the Hudson River. We drank Pol Roger, Winston Churchill’s favorite, to commemorate a victory for democracy. It was an emotional, indeed overwhelming, moment.
I have spent the past five years, four months and 23 days of my life fighting Trump — ever since he came down the garish escalator at Trump Tower to announce his presidential run with insults at Latino immigrants. Over that time I have written hundreds of columns — often appearing on television, too — to call attention to his awfulness. The fight against Trump was all consuming and utterly exhausting. Others have been doing far more — organizing, registering voters, marching, suing, donating, speaking out, passing legislation, producing commercials. All of us were united by a conviction that this was no mere political campaign. This was not about petty partisan differences. This was a fight to save our country.
And there were many times during the past four years when I thought the battle would be lost. Trump turned out to be even worse than I had expected: Who could have imagined that after four years of his malign and incompetent presidency nearly 240,000 Americans would be dead in a pandemic and our economy would be in ruins? And yet he did not suffer the catastrophic loss of support that he deserved.
It was enough to make me despair — to wonder if the United States was no longer the country that I had loved ever since arriving here as a 7-year-old immigrant from the Soviet Union in 1976. The rise of Trump jolted me out of the conservative movement and the Republican Party, caused me to question many of the shibboleths I advocated throughout my adult life, and even called into doubt the faith in America that had always been my secular religion.
I can no longer return to my naive faith in America, but at least I am no longer despondent. At least now there is reason for hope. On Saturday morning, the moment that so many of us worked so hard to bring about finally arrived. Yes, the victory was incomplete; I remain incredulous and depressed that most of Trump’s House and Senate enablers were not ousted with him. But Biden’s winning margin is going to be a lot bigger than it looked on election night. He will likely win 306 electoral college votes and nearly 82 million popular votes — the largest number ever cast for a president in our history.
On Saturday night, Biden showed that he is the right man for the moment. He gave a magnificent and magnanimous victory speech in which he called for healing in America, for bringing red states and blue states together to make a more perfect union. He sounded like a leader and appeared more youthful and energetic than he has in years. I was reminded of Robert A. Caro’s description of how Lyndon B. Johnson was transformed by becoming president — energized and invigorated by the passage of power after the purgatory of the vice presidency.
The contrast with the incumbent could not be more complete. Trump spent the day golfing and sending mad tweets claiming that he had won an election that everyone — even the New York Post — knows he lost. He is fast going from a figure of menace to one of comedy. He is reminiscent of the black knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” proclaiming “’tis but a scratch” even as his limbs are hacked off. Trump’s claims of election fraud — and with them his claims to the presidency — expired in a surreal news conference on Saturday by his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani in a Philadelphia parking lot near a crematorium and an adult entertainment shop called Fantasy Island.
Democracy is far from secure in America. The Republican Party remains dangerously authoritarian, and other illiberal populists will arise in the future who no doubt will be smarter and thus more dangerous than Trump. But at least the immediate threat is past, and we can all exhale again. Cheers, America — we did it.