“It is my sincere hope we never again see anyone subjected to the kind of abuse and threats we saw in this election. It’s simply unconscionable. We [owe] these public servants a debt of gratitude. They didn’t seek the spotlight. Our democracy survived because of them, which is proof once more that it’s every day Americans infused with honor, character and decency that is the heart of this nation.” President-elect Joe Biden, December 14, 2020.
No post-election period in modern history has been more unsettling than this one.
But December 14, 2020, has arrived. Americans voted over a month ago. Since then, votes were counted, certified, and in some cases re-certified. Procedures, vote totals, and certifications were legally challenged, but hold true. Today, the Electoral College finally voted.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are officially the winners, in an Electoral College vote of 306 to 232. They also won the popular vote, by over seven million votes. On January 6th, Vice President Pence will, after more or less drama, announce them as our next President and Vice-President. On January 20th, they will be inaugurated.
Then comes the hard part.
Polar opposites that they are, the Barack Obama and Donald Trump presidencies share this much: They faced steep opposition from (and even before) day 1. Opposition with widely different motivation and moral grounds—but ultimately, in both cases, disruptive and divisive.
Political opposition is to be expected—in fact, it is at the core of any democracy. But if sytematically disruptive and uncompromising opposition becomes the de facto norm, democracies become ungovernable. And that feeds despair and distrust, opening paths for autocracy.
In Mr. Biden, we have an outstanding opportunity to move away from this disturbing trend. He and his team are giving all of us the chance to rally around a “decency” agenda. An agenda that would benefit the vast majority of Americans. Will we take advantage of the opportunity? Will we even recognize it? Will it result in a much-needed constructive opposition?
The hope implicit in the previous paragraph will sound utterly naïve to some (most?) Americans.
After all, the incumbent has yet to concede—and, for too long, way too many leaders of his party have condoned or failed to condemn his denialism. Far too many Americans genuinely but wrongly believe that the election was fraudulent. On the other side of the political spectrum, some are already demanding retribution, or criticizing a perceived lack of diversity or innovation in the emerging government.
How does one recover from all that?!?
Mr. Biden’s steady, calm, thoughtful approach, is showing the way. He won’t be a perfect President. I won’t like some of his choices, neither will you. But giving him—whether out of enthusiasm, pragmatism or constructive opposition— a real chance to succeed, offers America, and Humanity, the best chance we have for a better today and a more sustainable tomorrow.
Wisely, the President-elect has mostly kept out of the post-election fray, rather focusing on his governing days ahead. His message seems to be resonating, slowly but surely. Emerging—above political upheaval, and even flashes of hatred and violence—is a sense of inevitability, fairness, and perhaps even (ultimately) calm and order. A glimpse of hope, for a comeback of personal and professional honor.
We saw such honor in state and federal courts, including the Supreme court. We saw it in Republican elected and election officers, in counties and states across the country, who—even under duress—chose duty and service over partisanship. We are seeing it in a small but increasing number of Republican Congressional members, who are coming out publicly in defense of democracy. A fragile but broad patriotic coalition of sorts is forming, or so says the optimist in me.
Can we, Americans of all political persuasions, take the next step? Can we commit to listen, learn and think—and then act responsibly? Can we agree to ‘trust and verify,’ rather than ‘distrust and vilify?’
Kids and grandkids around the country, and the world, deserve no less from us.
— Antonio Baptista