On Saturday morning, just before noon on the east coast, NBC, CNN, and AP called time on Donald Trump’s reign atop America’s fractured democracy.
Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 US presidential election after an agonizing four days of tedious vote counting. He is the President-elect. And starting on inauguration day, Kamala Harris will be known to the world as Madam Vice President.
Biden delivered a prime time address to the nation on Saturday evening aimed at unifying the country after one of the most divisive periods since the Civil War.
Headed into the weekend, most experts, pundits, and political analysts knew the race was over, but given the exceptionally fraught environment, networks held off on declaring Biden the winner.
Trump spent most of the week alleging massive fraud and filing lawsuits in multiple states, despite offering virtually no evidence to support claims of what the outgoing president called “shenanigans” during a widely-panned Thursday evening press conference at the White House.
On Saturday, Trump was characteristically defiant. “Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor,” Trump said, in a statement that was clearly pre-written. “Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated.”
No one should delude themselves. It’s over. Trump will go down in history as a one-term president who was impeached a year prior to losing both the popular vote and the Electoral College. There will be no “alternative facts.” Not this time.
By almost all accounts, Trump has nowhere close to the kind of case he would need if he intends to mount a serious legal challenge with any hope of prevailing.
His only option now would appear to be an assertion of absolute power — an outright usurpation of the country’s system of governance and an explicit rebuke of the Constitution. If he were inclined to go that route, it seems we would have known by Saturday. In the end, Trump wasn’t prepared to take the dramatic steps necessary to realize his authoritarian dream. And for that, I suppose the nation should thank him.
Trump’s was a presidency defined by controversy and turmoil. He rankled allies, established friendly relations with autocrats, waged an unceasing war against the free press, chipped away at the country’s checks and balances, and likely did irreparable damage both to America’s reputation abroad and to the institutions on which the country’s foundation rests.
It will likely be a long road back for a Republican party which metamorphosed into a kind of personality cult under Trump. GOP lawmakers often put loyalty over principle and fealty over ideology, looking the other way as the president disparaged deceased Republican icons and former Republican presidents with no regard for the decorum his party would have demanded from any other leader. Also abandoned during the Trump presidency were GOP pretensions to fiscal rectitude, respect for the country’s post-War military alliances, and the Christian moral high ground.
Fortunately for the GOP, Republicans’ solid performance in House and Senate races this week suggests that even as Trump became a liability, his efforts to equate all Democrats with failed socialist experiments in frontier economies were some semblance of successful. It’s likely not a stretch to say that Mitch McConnell and other GOP stalwarts will not miss Trump, especially given some Republicans’ avowed reverence for Biden’s character, if not necessarily his politics.
Trump will be remembered by many as a demagogue whose presidency was a regrettable aberration, but as discussed at length in “It’s Time To Be Honest About What America’s ‘Values’ Really Are,” his election performance in 2020 quite clearly suggests that the joke may be on the optimists. Anyone who steadfastly claimed Trumpism “isn’t who we are” was at least partially wrong. In fact, Trumpism is who we are on any number of levels.
America can change that, but it will require a commitment to expanding education and, crucially, a willingness to accept the inevitability of demographic and societal shifts which, over time, will erode traditional privileges that many are loath to surrender.
But it’s long past time the country moves beyond deleterious notions of racial and gender superiority that have, for decades, prevented the country from living up to the ideals espoused by the Founders.
Of course, that’s always been the real irony, hasn’t it? The Founders themselves didn’t live up to those ideals. Not by a long shot.
At the least, Trump’s ouster will allow for the pursuit of “a more perfect Union” to resume. But perfection isn’t attainable. And if the world has learned anything over the past four years, it’s that America is far further from achieving it than anyone thought.