After Donald Trump’s devastating four years in office, after months of a degrading election campaign, the 46th president of the United States will have the difficult task of turning the relief felt today into hope.
The year 2020 has been too stingy when it comes to good news for us to make light of this: The Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, has beaten outgoing President Donald Trump; that is the — delayed — outcome of the American presidential election. Once the recounts have been completed, and once Biden’s adversary’s avenues of appeal have been exhausted — this will be a long, hard road — he will move, on Jan. 21, into the White House, with a legitimacy not only based in the Electoral College, but also on the popular vote. In fact, thanks to historic voter turnout, and even without winning all the states that the polls predicted he would, he will move in after having earned the largest number of votes of any president in U.S. history, more than 75 million.
Nevertheless, the biggest mistake would be to settle for a sigh of relief. After four devastating years of Trump, months of a degrading campaign, and days or weeks of a concerning legal and political guerrilla war, the Democrat president will walk onto a devastated battleground abandoned by his predecessor, with the immense task of rebuilding everything, or almost everything.
In order to have a chance to do so, first of all he must remain calm. It is not exactly the most common ability of our time, but Biden is far from being without it, as he has shown in these highly tense days while the final results have been coming in. He must remain impervious a bit longer in the face of fanatical, small groups capable of exaggerating the risk of civil unrest. He must remain unshakable in the face of attacks from lawyers who will try until the bitter end to make people believe in the irregularity of ballots that are undoubtedly legal. And, above all, he must not allow himself to become distracted by the dishonest and manipulative tweets that the outgoing president continues to spew from the White House.
Trump: A Black Hole of Self-Centeredness
Anything but unpredictable, Trump will no doubt continue up until the last day of his presidency, and well after, to behave like a black hole of self-centeredness who would prefer to destroy democracy, the entire country and the planet with it, rather than admit defeat or wrongdoing. In his comments since the election, his attacks on institutions and the truth have gone so far that they have made this comparison embarrassing: With more than 70 million votes, the defeated president has just surpassed the votes that Barack Obama received in 2008. That also means that he has received more votes than any other Republican candidate in history — proof that, in this election that is coming to an end, there was not one wave as predicted, but two, the blue thankfully larger than the red.
Biden and his team need to take stock of just how large that number is. They need to take stock of what it says about what is wrong in America that the former real estate developer was able to garner so much support, though not enough. The futility of Trump’s actions against the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, should have cost him a strong repudiation at the polls. That is at least what a number of observers were expecting, not noticing that, beneath this line of thinking, which went in Biden’s direction, was another, barely visible, in Trump’s favor. Our recent inquiries into radical groups on Facebook or the conspiracy theory movement QAnon show it: Since this summer, the epidemic has set off an explosion of rumors, fears and accusations, each one as false as the next, that have fed into a fanatical support for the outgoing president from all social classes. It even got him an excellent percentage of the vote in counties that have suffered the most from the disease.
There is a larger problem, one that social media only amplifies. In order for fake news to have its effect, in order for manipulation to work, people must have a reason to believe it. Trumpism is the symptom, not the cause of these many resentments, feelings of injustice and of self-centeredness, too, that fuel the gullibility of the masses.
It is this larger problem that Biden must confront if he really wants to heal a country that is torn apart, corrupted by racism, decaying infrastructure, an inequitable education system, declining life expectancy and wealth that is more and more concentrated in the hands of a few. As these ills do not only affect the United States — far from it — and as they can lead to other Trumpian-style despots in other democracies, we must hope for Joe Biden’s success. We must wish that this great nation’s 46th president is able to transform the relief felt today into hope.