A week ago, humanity faced a dark future. Even worse: No one saw a future. Just an ominous stain. Have you seen those tropical storms where the sky fills with fat, omnipotent clouds? The shadow of Donald Trump was worse.
But Joe Biden came along — and intelligent, charismatic Kamala Harris — and in one day, Nov. 7, 2020, we discovered that there might be a promise waiting for us: Biden was declared president-elect. It was so powerful that, although the acting president of the United States does not acknowledge his defeat, the world seems to feel that the drowning is over, at least for the moment.
Biden’s triumph has given us a guiding narrative: the idea that, in the worst circumstances, believing, organizing and mobilizing can produce a kind of miracle. At least today we have the belief — and in this case, faith seems like a reasonable choice — that we can try and that others will. Has the world changed then? The atmosphere has changed. The challenges are the same. We are faced with a plethora of obstacles that will make us fail.
But there is a beginning: We trust again. Above all, in reason.
As with catastrophes and epiphanies, I suppose we will all remember where we were when we learned that it was the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency. My flight from Dallas to Mexico City was about to take off when an alert came on my phone and those of several dozen others. Passengers applauded, there were shouts of joy (gentle and careful). I immediately thought of my children. Some of the many forms of joy have returned. And, above all, the intense feeling that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have recovered the perception, albeit minor, weak and perhaps unattainable, that not everything has been said, and that we can build a better future.
I talked about it with a dozen colleagues, friends and analysts on an express visit to Mexico. The worried faces of the same people on Zoom now have an incredible, almost adolescent fullness of expression. And I include my own. It has been a long time since my entire face smiled.
Even if we fail to get what we want, we have turned onto a path with possibilities. A couple of decades ago, I read an interview in which Primo Levi spoke about hope, addressing ideas from his novel, “If Not Now, When?” Levi wrote, “You can be sure that the world is headed for destruction, but it is a good idea, something moral, to behave as if there is still hope.” And he continues, “Hope is as contagious as despair: Your hope, or your token of hope, is a gift that you can give to your neighbor and can even help prevent or delay the destruction of their world.”
At the moment, the announced discovery of a highly effective vaccine against COVID-19 has given us hope. The magnitude of the news sounds like poetic justice for a dark age without poetry: developed in Angela Merkel’s Germany by a couple of scientists, an immigrant and a daughter of immigrants. A perfect combination: a country despised by Trump, a woman — a woman, Donald! — the epitome of responsible leadership that he is incapable of embodying, and scientists — scientists! — children of immigrants toward whom, surely, the worst occupant ever in the White House would have been merciless.
Now Biden is not a hero. He is not a revolutionary who will turn the world upside down, but his plan is to return us to a reasonable path. Biden intends to unite and reconcile the U.S. with the world; get back on track in the fight against climate change by returning to the global conversation; defend human rights and democracy against the advance of autocracies and authoritarian populism; strengthen regional and global cooperation to improve trade in the middle of a crisis and promote an international system of institutions that address present and future challenges.
The challenges will remain enormous and, of course, there is no guarantee of victory — not at all. There will be reprehensible mistakes and unacceptable setbacks. A collection of the impossible awaits us. The pandemic looms ahead with its list of the dead, the economic crisis will require revisiting paradigms (which may not happen); the social, cultural — and civil — fractures will not be dismantled by decree. Poverty will spread; millions are out of work; the politics of hatred will not disappear without resistance. We will fail in numerous other fields. We will have good and bad results. We will be disappointed and angry.
But today we know that there is room for tolerance, civility and dialogue. A hole has opened in the closed darkness that enveloped us, said Levi, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz and survived.
I have two children. I don’t want a worse world for them, and that was the future we faced with Trump. We will have to poke into the opening, into that gap in the darkness, until we create a place to step through. It will take us every day for years to come.