Joe Biden has swept the popular vote, and is on the verge of claiming the electoral college. It’s a momentous achievement
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Barring a twist inconceivable even by the standards of 2020, we will soon know the result of the US presidential election – and it will almost certainly be a cause for rejoicing. Donald Trump, the man who has haunted the world’s dreams and sparked a thousand nightmares, has all but lost. On 20 January 2021, he will probably leave the White House – or be removed if necessary. The Trump presidency, a shameful chapter in the history of the republic, will soon be over.
True, it is taking longer than we might have liked. There was to be no swift moment of euphoria and elation, an unambiguous landslide announced on election night with a drumroll and fireworks display. Instead, thanks to a pandemic that meant two in three Democrats voted by slower-to-count mail-in ballots, it’s set to be a win in increments, a verdict delivered in slow motion. Nor was there the hoped-for “blue wave” that might have carried the Democrats to a majority in the US Senate (though there is, just, a way that could yet happen). As a result, it will be hard for Joe Biden to do what so urgently needs to be done, whether that’s tackling the climate crisis, racial injustice, economic inequality, America’s parlous infrastructure or its dysfunctional and vulnerable electoral machinery. And it is glumly true that even if Trump is banished from the Oval Office, Trumpism will live on in the United States.
And yet none of that should obscure the main event that has taken place this week. It’s a form of progressive masochism to search for the defeat contained in a victory. Because a victory is what this will be.
Recall the shock and disgust that millions – perhaps billions – have felt these past four years, as Trump sank to ever lower depths. When he was ripping children from their parents and keeping them in cages; when he was blithely exchanging “love letters” with the murderous thug that rules the slave state of North Korea; when he was coercing Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, or else lose the funds it needed to defend itself against Vladimir Putin, the high crime for which he was impeached; when he was denying the reality of the coronavirus, insisting it would just melt away, thereby leaving more than 235,000 Americans to their fate and their deaths – when he was doing all that, what did his opponents long for? The wish, sometimes uttered to the heavens, was not complicated: they wanted Trump’s defeat and ejection from power. Few attached the rider that it would only count if the Democrats could also pick up a Senate seat in North Carolina.
Nor does it seem as though any defeat for Trump will be tentative or partial, even if the delayed result might make it feel that way. Joe Biden crushed him in this contest. He beat him in the popular vote by a huge margin, four million at last count, with that figure only growing as the final result is tallied. Yes, in a high-turnout election, Trump got more votes than he did in 2016 – but Biden got more votes than any presidential candidate in history, more even than the once-in-a-generation phenomenon that was Barack Obama.
What’s more, Biden looks to have done something extremely difficult and vanishingly rare, taking on and defeating a first-term president. That would ensure that Donald Trump becomes only the third elected president since Herbert Hoover in 1932 to try and fail to win re-election. Trump would take his place alongside Jimmy Carter and George Bush the elder in the small club of rejected, one-term presidents. As it happens, both those men were gracious in defeat and admirable in retirement, but Trump won’t see them that way. He’ll regard them as stone-cold losers. And he’s about to be one of them, his place taken by a decent, empathic man with the first ever female vice-president at his side.
It’s worth bearing all that in mind when you hear the predictable complaints that Biden was too “centrist”, or that Bernie Sanders would have done better. It could be argued that Biden outperformed the rest of his party, pulling ahead even as Democrats lost seats in the House and failed to make great gains in the Senate. Note that Trump’s prime attack line – that “far left” Democrats were itching to impose “socialism” on America – cut through in this campaign, clearly alarming Cuban and Venezuelan voters in Florida, for example. But it was a hard label to stick on a lifelong pragmatist like Joe Biden: most Americans just didn’t buy it.
What it adds up to is not perhaps the across-the-board repudiation of Trump and the congressional Republicans who enabled him these past four years. But it does count as an emphatic rejection of what Trump did as a first-term president – and, if it holds, the prevention of all the horror he would have unleashed if he had won a second.
It means that a majority of Americans have said no to the constant stream of insults, abuse and lies – more than 22,000 since Trump took office, according to the Washington Post. They have said no to a man who was a misinformation super-spreader, who called journalists “enemies of the people” and denounced inconvenient truths as “fake news”. They have said no to a man who suggested people should guard against Covid by injecting themselves with disinfectant; who dismissed science in favour of Fox News; who dismissed the word of his own intelligence agencies, preferring conspiracy theories picked up on Twitter.
They have said no to a president who saw white supremacists and neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville in 2017, and declared that they included some “very fine people”. They have said no to a man who referred to one black congresswoman as “low IQ” and suggested four others, all US citizens, should “go back home”. They have said no to the man who refused to disavow the far-right groups who worship him, telling those racist extremists instead to “stand back and stand by”. They have said no to the man who trashed America’s allies, who withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement, and who grovelled to every strongman and dictator on the planet.
The next few weeks will be perilous. Trump will not concede; he will continue to deny the legitimacy of this result. His performance on Thursday night was perhaps his lowest and darkest yet, groundlessly telling Americans they could have no faith in their most solemn democratic rite: the election of a president. As he leaves, he will scorch the earth and poison the soil.
But all of that is to remind us why it was so essential, for America and the world, that he be defeated. And why, even though it may have arrived slowly and without the fanfare so many of us wanted, this will be a moment to savour. A dark force is being expelled from the most powerful office in the world – and at long last, we can glimpse the light