How can the US recover from the election?

AMERICAN AFFAIRS: The divisions in America have never been more vividly displayed

A TOURIST with a US flag poses near the White House the day after Election Day. (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
A TOURIST with a US flag poses near the White House the day after Election Day.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
“America at a crossroads,” read part of a headline to an AP story on the website of Oklahoma’s largest daily newspaper, The Oklahoman, on Tuesday morning, just hours before voting in the US elections began.
“America stood at a crossroads,” the report read. “Never before in modern history have voters faced a choice between candidates offering such opposite visions as the nation confronts a once-in-a-century pandemic, the starkest economic contraction since the Great Depression and a citizenry divided on cultural and racial issues.”
And while all that may be true, the crossroads the US faces actually appears now, after the elections – after the inconclusive results, over which there will surely be a long, protracted court battle.
Now the true mettle of the country will be tested. What path will the country take to move on from here? That is the true crossroads.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the man who very well may be America’s 46th president, set the right tone in brief comments he made Wednesday afternoon to the nation.
Once the voting is over and finalized, said Biden, who expressed confidence that he would prevail, “it’ll be time for us to do what we’ve always done as Americans, to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to one another, to hear each other again, and respect and care for one another, to unite, to heal, to come together as a nation.
“I know this won’t be easy. I’m not naive,” he continued. “I know how deep and hard the opposing views are in our country on so many things. But I also know this as well. To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies. We are not enemies.”
Although some may just dismiss Biden’s words as empty political rhetoric, something that any successful candidate says (though it is very difficult imagining those words in the mouth of US President Donald Trump), one hopes – for America’s sake – that it is not. For if the US is ever to regain its balance, its rival factions need to end the demonization and delegitimization of those who think differently.
Supporting Trump does not make a person bad or a racist, nor does voting for Biden make one dismal or unpatriotic. The culture of political discourse in America is nothing short of toxic, and at this point it is inconsequential who started it. What is consequential is whether it can change.
MANY WHO live on Twitter and Facebook, who follow the polls carefully, who read the elite media and watch CNN, were undoubtedly surprised and shocked by the results of Tuesday’s elections.
There was a sense among many in the days before the voting – and this was reinforced in polls and tweets and commentary – that a Democratic “blue wave” was about to wash over an America exhausted by Trump, his tweets, the coronavirus pandemic and a summer of racial discontent.
That didn’t happen. There was no blue wave that added to the Democratic representation in Congress (the Democrats apparently lost ground in the House). Nor, apparently, will the Democrats wrest control of the Senate from the Republicans. And if Biden does emerge victorious, it will be by the thinnest of margins.
Some had hoped for, and foolishly even talked about, a Biden landslide. But that was not to be.
“Ninety-eight percent of my friends support Biden, as I do, and we are all shocked and disappointed by the polls [election],” said one Facebook user. To which another commented sardonically, “Just ‘shocked’ that my FB [Facebook] feed of friends doesn’t reflect the reality of the United States.”
And therein lies an important truth.
America, no less than Israel, is divided into bubbles, and inside those bubbles people are further insulated from the “other America” – that is, the Americans with whom they don’t agree – by social media feeds and news organizations that cater to their own particular worldview.
If you hate Trump, and your spouse hates Trump, and most of the people you work with all seem to hate Trump, and every opinion piece in The New York Times, which you read religiously, blasts Trump, and the television network you watch unabashedly thrashes Trump, and your cultural and sports heroes all speak out against Trump, you will think that this reflects reality, and that everyone hates Trump and all that he stands for.
But then you wake up the morning after a bitterly contested and inconclusive election to find that even if your preferred candidate, Biden, appears to be in line to win the presidency, some 70 million of your countrymen voted for someone you think is just a step removed from Mussolini. And that realization becomes an intense source of disillusionment.
Facebook and Twitter were full of posts after the election by people sorely disappointed that while Trump may have been narrowly defeated, he was not thoroughly repudiated; that despite all that has occurred in the US under his tenure, nearly half of America still considers him the one best suited and most fit to lead the country.
Those opposed to Trump did not want to see him merely defeated, like Mitt Romney or John McCain were defeated. They wanted him utterly rejected, if not humiliated; repudiated like George McGovern in 1972, who won only 17 electoral college votes and only 37.5% of the popular vote.
Only that would have made them feel comfortable, because they cannot bear the thought that tens of millions of people identify with many of Trump’s positions – although perhaps not with him personally – and that tens of millions of Americans see Trump’s America First, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment right to bear arms, pro-business vision as their own.
WITH EACH election it is always stunning to see the US map on the television screen in stark red and blue colors. And although the blue dominates on the upper right and left sides of the map, there is a wide swath in the middle – rural America, small town America, Evangelical Christian America, blue-collar America – that is colored bright Republican red. And those in that part of the country never accepted the memo that they must march in tune with the values the “enlightened” cultural elites want them to accept.
Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, wrote last month, in an article headlined “The only middle finger available,” that Trump is “the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations and almost everything in between.”
Trump, he wrote, is the “vessel for registering opposition” to the current dominant cultural trend in America.
Even though Trump may not win a second term, those who voted for him represent half the country, and Biden, if he emerges as the next president, will need to create an atmosphere whereby they do not feel that the rest of America is looking down its nose at them as culturally inferior and unenlightened.
Let me be clear,” Biden said. “I, we, are campaigning as Democrats, but I will govern as an American president. The presidency itself is not a partisan institution. It’s the one office in this nation that represents everyone, and it demands a duty of care for all Americans. That is precisely what I will do.”
Trump never took pains to do that, which has a great deal to do with why America looks the way it does today. By contrast, Biden’s entire political career was characterized by efforts to reach across the aisle and look for places where compromise is possible, working with – not against – his political opponents.
One reason Biden was able to do that was that he saw those across the aisle as political opponents, not enemies. If Biden does come out as the victor in Tuesday’s election, he will need to tap into that attribute even more than he has before, hoping that by so doing others will follow suit and the current atmosphere in the country can be changed.
Otherwise, it will be very difficult for America to emerge from its current malaise.