The presidential election of 2020, whatever its accomplishments, has left the people on both sides of America’s political divide in some distress.
Stress for Biden voters:
On the winning side – those who wanted the powers of the presidency transferred from Donald Trump to Joe Biden – there is anxiety regarding the damage being done by the incumbent president by his dealing with his defeat in unprecedented ways:
• telling lies about the election he lost, falsely alleging “fraud” despite the voting tabulation reportedly having been the cleanest and most secure in history;
• refusing to deliver a concession speech, as all those defeated before him have done;
• filing dozens of suits so meritless that they’re getting laughed out of court;
• ordering the government to withhold from the president-elect and his team the resources and cooperation they are entitled to, and that national security requires.
It has been reassuring to hear from those who know most about our political system: they say confidently that Trump’s defiant refusal to admit defeat is irrelevant, and that on Jan. 20, Joe Biden will take the presidential oath and begin wielding the considerable powers of that office.
But, even if that’s so, dangers remain: What kind of orders might this president issue in an effort to defy the election whose result ran against him? What kind of messages might Trump send his supporters that some might take as an invitation to violence or even insurrection? (How much damage is being inflicted on our democracy by half of Republican voters believing the lies about the election being "stolen"?)
And then there are the deep concerns arising out of the way almost the whole Republican Party has enabled Trump’s unprecedented attack on our constitutional election. At this writing, all but four of the 51 Republican senators have failed to extend to the president-elect the customary acknowledgment.
Which bolsters the fear that – even at this time of crisis – the Republicans will put partisan interests ahead of the needs of the nation. Many are fearing that the Republicans in Congress will do as they did with Obama: make his failure their top priority.
Stress for Trump voters:
The post-election period also entails stresses for Trump supporters.
For some, such is their love of Trump that his defeat is a loss especially hard to endure. (Especially if they believe Trump’s lies about the election being stolen – from him, and therefore also from them).
On top of that, for many the prospect of a Biden presidency adds to the stress, especially if they’ve bought the lies that Trump and his minions have been putting out about Biden.
For those who hold a demonized view of the Democratic Party, Biden’s being a Democrat is enough reason to hate the idea of his being their president. The anxieties are deepened for those who have bought the false picture of Biden sold by the Trump side used for this election: Biden’s being corrupt, and/or an old man incapable of shouldering the heavy duties of the Presidency, and/or a “socialist.”
Biden’s reassuring start:
In view of all that, a big part of the president-elect’s job now is to reduce the level of stress in the nation. Judging from his recent news conference, Biden seems to understand that task.
He has calmed his anxious supporters by responding to a question about how he’ll be able to work with the Republicans when they’re refusing still to recognize his victory, saying, “They will” followed by the most beautiful smile.
And it should reassure Trump supporters of his desire to have an amicable, rather than conflictual, relationship with those on the other side how Biden chose to respond to a question about Trump’s unprecedented, lawless conduct: passing up the opportunity to slam Trump for his transgressions, Biden instead paused to ask himself out loud, “How can I put this tactfully,” and then simply to say that what Trump is doing will not enhance Trump’s “legacy.”
So Biden is modeling for the nation the kinder, less agitated place we can get to. He’s offering a space within which Americans might feel more able to come together.
A time for healing:
The deep division among the American people is one of the main dimensions of what needs healing in our nation. And one of the main determinants of how much else that needs fixing in today’s America can be repaired will be how much success we can have in healing the deep divisions that have formed among our people.
Biden seems to have taken on the task of conveying to the broad spectrum of the American people that he can be trusted to do his best to serve the good of the nation.
As an American patriot, I wish this famously decent man success.
A key question is how open the supporters of Trump will be to perceiving Biden’s good faith caring about them.
At a time of crisis like this – we might have to go back to 1933 to find a time when the need has been so great for our leaders to take action to repair our nation – obstructionism to make the president fail would be an indefensible betrayal of the nation.
And that means it now falls upon the Republican voters to push their Republican leaders to work with Biden to do whatever can be agreed will be for the good of the nation.