Nothing Is OK

The Electoral College has confirmed Joe Biden’s win; democracy has triumphed. But Donald Trump’s departure will not conceal the fact that something in the U.S. has been destroyed.

Joe Biden will be the next U.S. president. Voters decided that six weeks ago during the election. Four days later, CNN and other TV networks called it. Courts confirmed the votes for the Democrats in more than 50 lawsuits from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The Department of Justice detected no hint of election fraud. In the end, promptly rejecting two lawsuits, even the Supreme Court fended off every judicial attempt to prevent Biden’s victory. And on Monday, the electors of the Electoral College formally elected Joe Biden. In the end, he received all 306 Democratic votes out of the 538 total available. No one broke rank.

Usually, the gathering of the Electoral College six weeks after a presidential election is nothing more than a footnote, a formality that hardly anyone knows when and how it exactly happens. But everything is different this year. During their Zoom conference, the six electors in Nevada, for instance, held up their ballots for a long time in clear view of the camera. On Jan. 6, the newly elected Congress will count all votes again and Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, will declare the victor. It will be Biden.

Jokes are already circulating about how many times Biden will be elected president before the inauguration on Jan. 20. But unfortunately, it’s not funny. It’s terrifying. The last four years have destroyed something in this country.

Democracy stood firm in the end, yes. The electors were not the only ones who fulfilled their duty. The judicial branch also showed itself to be resilient. State judges reviewed and ruled on every absurd lawsuit from Donald Trump’s camp. They did not allow themselves to be intimidated. The Supreme Court, which is primarily occupied by conservative justices since Trump himself was able to fill three seats during his term, did not let itself be turned into an instrument of the president. In its most recent decision regarding potential election fraud, all nine justices stood firm in respecting the law above all else; they also signaled to the president to just let it be. All of that is encouraging, a signal that the U.S. has again chosen democracy.

Trump Will Not Let It Be

But in this again lies all the drama of recent weeks. There is relief that the institutions and a majority of citizens have successfully fended off an attempt to steal the election. But therein also lies the recognition that it could have ended differently. That it is no longer guaranteed in this country that democratic values will always stand above everything else.

Trump will not let it be. His followers will not let it be, and large portions of the Republican Party will not let it be, either. According to a Fox News poll, 77% of Trump voters believe that their president won. That is not a marginal group that can just be wiped away with images of Biden placing his hand on the Bible and then walking into the White House as president together with Kamala Harris.

Mistrust Does Not Need Facts

Trump can no longer be dismissed as a phenomenon that came and went without eroding the stability of this 2 1/2-century-old democracy. He will continue refusing to accept his defeat. If there is still a way to steal the election, Trump will take it. No matter how illegitimate it may be.

Some of his most loyal followers in the House of Representatives want to use the official count on Jan. 6 to challenge individual results again, and thus have the votes of the electors from certain states declared invalid. It is so improbable that not even their own party believes it will happen. Additionally, they are talking about sending “alternative electors” to Washington. And the lawsuit from Texas that the Supreme Court struck down was supported by 126 Republican members of Congress.

Winning Stands above All Else

Through it all, it’s not that they believe that they will win: it’s about mistrust and the doubt that it entails; doubt in the state, the courts, democratic principles and of course one’s political opponent. Mistrust does not need a logical end to the story; it needs no facts. Millions of people believe the doubt that Trump has been sowing for years, and that his party has supported in large part and will continue to carry with them.

Even if a few Republican politicians have finally had the courage to speak up and recognize Biden’s victory, it is no longer guaranteed that their party will defend democracy. Or that it will instead put winning above everything else, regardless of the means.

Biden said on Monday evening that the country should now open a new chapter after the election. Many are yearning for that. But America will not just be able to close Trump’s chapter without accepting what it has contributed to the country’s history. It is the story of a fragile democracy and of a society that no longer agrees how this story should continue.

Some 81.2 million voters believe in democracy and that it is worth defending with their allies. Across from them stand 74.2 million voters who wanted to hand their country over to Trump for another four years. Everything has turned out okay again. And yet, nothing is okay in America.

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