The End of Four Long Hard Years
Where were you the morning of Saturday November 7 when you heard that the 2020 presidential election had finally been called in favor of Joe Biden?
All of us who struggled for the past four years with despair, disgust and outrage at what our country had become under Donald Trump will long remember this moment —where we were, what we were doing, how the news reached us.
Even though the likelihood of Trump’s defeat was increasing in the hours and days after the closing of the polls on November 4, the numbers were still close, and nothing was certain yet.
For me, the moment came as I was checking my email Saturday morning, and saw a brief emotional message from one of our old family friends in Europe, Paul Trân Van-Thinh, former E.U. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization: “My U.S.A. is back!!!!” A fitting reminder that the beginning of the end of the Trump era is a matter of immense joy to people throughout the world, not just here in America.
It was followed quickly by a message from another longtime friend in Europe, sharing with us the cartoon that has suddenly spread virally in France: the Statue of Liberty’s head peeking out from behind her empty pedestal asking “Is he gone yet?”
I immediately turned on the news. For the rest of the day, my husband and I remained glued to TV coverage of reactions, celebrations, analysis and forward-looking discussions of what a Biden era might look like. And in the evening, of course, we listened joyously to the Harris and Biden victory speeches from Wilmington, Delaware.
In both Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s speeches, every word, every idea, every emotion, every aspiration, every commitment, every appeal, every smile, every interaction with the audience was a repeal of the aggressive, ignorant, fear-creating, us-versus-them and mean-spirited style of the president who had just been defeated.
Biden’s was a leadership voice that spoke once again of hope, not of ‘carnage’ and ‘disaster’.
It was the first truly presidential speech we’ve heard in a long, long time — close to four years, to be exact.
What Resonated So Much In Biden’s Victory Speech
Biden’s words will go down in history among the great unifying pieces of American political oratory, those that stir and inspire us to our ‘better angels’ and to move beyond our divisions towards that ‘more perfect union’ that is ever beyond our reach, but serves as a beacon for our aspiration.
It was a passionate address that came from the heart — the vision and ideals Joe Biden had long stood for, and that he had kept his campaign focused on, refusing to respond to Donald Trump’s provocations and taunts or descend into the political gutter at any point during the long and hard contest.
The speech was all about character, decency, responsibility, moving forward, healing wounds, fixing the great problems of today, building for a better tomorrow. It was about faith in the ability of the nation to right its wrongs, and to become once again the land of possibility and hope. It was about Biden’s central message — that the time has come to restore the soul of America, and that we are at one of those many dramatic inflection points in our history when we are forced to decide who we want to be.
It was also a Lincoln-like “with malice towards none” speech in which he pledged to seek to unify rather than divide, to be the President of all Americans, not just of those who voted for him, and, reprising former President Obama’s famous formulation, that he did not see red states and blue states, but only the United States.
Biden’s words had profound resonance, but not only in the positive sense of evoking the great moments and ideals and forward strides of the nation towards fairness, inclusion and unity.
It also had an uncanny ‘negative resonance’ — every ideal and value he expressed was in total and stark contrast with what Donald Trump had been and had stood for during these past four years.
It was almost like an exorcism.
One felt that, no matter what the many difficulties and challenges ahead — and they are myriad — the Trump era is on its way out, and something new and better is on its way in. Maybe it will be called the Biden era.
Only Tepid Elation among Liberals and Progressives?
At some point last week, as the election returns were being counted, it became clear not only that the Biden-Harris ticket was going to win, but that the great Blue Wave that polls had been predicting was, in fact, not happening.
Even as the Electoral College vote count was edging nervously towards ousting Trump and putting Biden over that magic 270 number, the hoped for ‘flipping’ of the Senate and the increase in Democratic power in the House of Representatives did not materialize. Nor did the anticipated Blue Wave materialize in the many states that had been thought to be leaning towards the Democrats.
This obviously came as a shock to the Democratic/Liberal/Progressive side of our great political divide.
It certainly came as a shock to me. As one of the thousands of volunteers throughout the country who had been motivated to keep churning out those cards, letters, texts, calls and donations, I had been greatly inspired and motivated by the prospect of a Democratic clean sweep of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
I had shared in the heady dream that this election would usher in a new day — where all the problems foisted on us by the Trump administration could be rapidly resolved, the repugnant Republican policies put in place during his tenure could be rapidly undone, and the undermining of our democratic institutions swiftly halted and redressed.
That Blue Wave dream, it turns out, was not to be.
The next two months , however, hold a slim chance that the Democrats may gain control of the Senate, thanks to the astonishing developments in Georgia which are giving us two senatorial run-off elections in January. “It ain’t over till it’s over,” as our beloved all-American wise guy Yogi Berra once said.
What has struck me, in communicating since the Nov 4 election with like-minded friends, and in reading political opinion from both professional commentators in the media and rank-and-file Liberals and Progressives, has been a kind of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’ mindset.
Yes, there was jubilation on the day of Biden’s victory (“There’s a new sheriff in town!” as another all-American idiom puts it), but then. . .
“All that effort, and we couldn’t turn the country around. ” Sigh!
“Biden won, but it’s still a divided country.” “What does it say about our country that 70 million people voted for Trump?” “The election should never have been this close.” Sigh!
“Without control of the Senate, Biden will be unable to achieve anything. There’s no chance of progress.” Sigh!
“We’re divided among ourselves and won’t be able to get beyond our policy differences between Progressives and Moderates.” Sigh!
“Trump will stop at nothing to overturn the election and stay in power.” Sigh!
“Our politics at all levels have become so toxic and dysfunctional that nothing’s ever going to change.” “Trump’s damage has been so fundamental that there’s no recovering.” Sigh!
“We won the presidency, but we’re on life support. We’re a failed state. The American experiment is dead.” Sigh!
This litany of negativity is astonishing in the face of the actual electoral achievement of Biden’s victory over Trump:
Winning in spite of rampant efforts at voter suppression. Unseating an incumbent President who had the support of half the population. Saving the country from a second term under a would-be dictator. Bringing out the highest number of voters in any U.S. election. Winning with a coalition of support broader than any yet achieved. And breaking a triple glass-ceiling in the person of Kamala Harris’s election to Vice-President in the 100th year after American women got the vote.
The Audacity of “YES, AND” Rather Than “YES, BUT”
Hey, folks on the Liberal and Progressive side of our politics, what more do you need to stop feeling helpless and hopeless and downcast after this election?
Stop moaning! Something great has been achieved. Rejoicing is in order!
Acknowledge it, celebrate it, and then roll up those proverbial sleeves and get to work supporting the generous and hope-filled Biden vision, and the next phase of the ongoing effort to make the country better. That’s what being a citizen rather than a victim is all about!
Of course, besides the uncertainties and possible perils of these next 10 weeks until the official transition of power on January 20, 2021, we can’t help but have concern about what will happen when Biden assumes his office.
He will need to act decisively and all at once on all the overwhelmingly complex problems bequeathed to him by the Trump administration — the COVID pandemic, the economy in tatters, the racial reckoning that demands urgent attention, climate change, the need to make healthcare and education accessible, and, last but not least, the disaffected half of the population who voted for Trump and the Republican politicians who used him for their partisan ends.
Not only will he need to lead and act, but there will surely be opposition and challenge all the way, testing to the hilt his skill at meeting others half way and making change happen through discussion and compromise.
There is a sense of history happening all over gain. Barack Obama faced a similarly perilous time of great possibility and great struggle when he became President in 2008.
But Obama did not give up. Biden, too, will not give up. And all of us must not give up either. These times are fraught with danger, but also contain the potential for greatness and ‘bending the arc of the moral universe’ in a forward direction — in spite of all the opposition that is and will be undeniably lined up to prevent it.
Barack Obama wrote and spoke about ‘the audacity of hope’. It is, indeed, audacious to hope in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. But has anything but audacity ever make the world progress? Obama called for us to commit to a politics of hope rather than a politics of cynicism. I believe that this is what the Biden era which is just starting is all about too.
And so, back to the Liberal and Progressive moaners and nay-sayers about the significance of the Biden victory.
Could you learn to put aside your cynicism and to say ‘YES, AND’ rather than ‘YES, BUT’ when you contemplate all the political challenges ahead?
“YES, we did not achieve the Blue Wave we expected, AND now we need to build on what we did achieve in this election.” Instead of “YES, we did win the Presidency, BUT we failed at getting our Blue Wave.”
It’s good to have had high expectations for the election, and to have had our reach exceed our grasp. But since we did not fully succeed in achieving what we dreamed of, let’s not collapse into the timid habit of setting expectations low, and then feeling justified when the low expectations are confirmed.
Let’s get back to work with renewed hope. Let’s avoid the trap of being so-called ‘realists’ who don’t want to get hurt by aiming at the seemingly impossible. That’s not who makes history.
Let’s also step back from the non-stop catastrophizing that has characterized much of our political life during the Trump era. Just stop it. It’s lazy, ineffectual, and self-manipulative. It also becomes a kind of drug — the daily dose of outrage to pump us up, make us angry, and stoke our self-righteousness.
Finally, let’s do something I feel is long overdue. Let’s stop the constant entertainment of making each other laugh at jokes about Donald Trump. That, too, is becoming a substitute for action, a way of asserting our membership in our political tribe, and, to tell the truth, is becoming an increasingly crashing bore. I know we all love our comedians and how they helped us to laugh through the tears through these four long years, but it’s time for them too to move on beyond the easy mark of mocking Trump, and find new subject matter of import.
Make no mistake about it. Trump is going to become history. Trump jokes will become an anachronism. We will learn to live without him as the foil to our anger and frustrations. And, after much effort and struggle and pain, we will overcome this whole sorry episode of our national story.
Believe it, act on it, orient your personal life and your actions as a citizen towards the new reality that was proclaimed on November 7.
The four long hard years are coming to an end.
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Karine Schomer, PhD is a writer, speaker, scholar, and a political and social commentator. She writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@schomer44. In her essays, she explores the worlds of society, politics, culture, history, language, world civilizations and life lessons. You can read her writer’s philosophy in The Idea Factory. Contact: email@example.com