There’s never been an American president quite like Donald Trump. Either you love him, or you hate him. Either you cheer him on, or you cringe at the sight of him. Either you voted for him, or you didn’t. Either you were crestfallen at his defeat, or you celebrated in the streets when you heard the news. It’s safe to say there has never been (and hopefully never will be again) a Commander in Chief as divisive as Donald J. Trump.
Prior to the 2020 presidential election, a Gallup poll reported fifty-six percent of registered voters felt they were better off than they were before Trump took office. Whether you included yourself in that fifty-six percent depended upon your definition of “better off.”
Donald Trump took a lot from those of us decidedly outside that fifty-six percent of happy Trump campers, We lost friends/family when their dedication to Donald Trump far outweighed the value of individual relationships. We watched, baffled, as members of our various churches fell in line behind Trump. Our pride in America suffered when the Trump administration caged children, associated with dangerous foreign leaders, responded apathetically to systemic racism, and appeared largely indifferent to a global pandemic. The America of the past four years, the Kingdom of Trump, was foreign to us. Where was the fairness, the truth, the empathy? Where was dignity, selflessness, purpose? Where was the traditional “all for one, and one for all” American mindset? We were beaten down by the hopelessness of a divided America and the erosion of traditional American values. From the campaign trail, Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, echoed our concerns when he said, “We are better than this!” We agreed and flocked to the polls to be heard.
By Wednesday afternoon, November 4th, Joe Biden had already broken the record for the most number of votes cast for any presidential candidate in history. The 2020 election saw record turnout, with at least 159.8 million Americans voting, the highest turnout rate among eligible voters since 1900. When Biden’s win was announced on Saturday, November 7th, Americans joyfully took to the streets. The celebration extended around the world. Church bells rang in Paris. Fireworks exploded in London. Global leaders reached out with congratulatory messages for President-elect Biden. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s tweet reflected the world’s collective response to the Biden/Harris win: “Welcome back, America!”
Welcome back, indeed! “Never-Trumpers” here in America are breathing a sigh of relief. We feel lighter, hopeful. For the first time in a long while, we see a light ahead. We can see a day when grace, dignity, and skill are restored to the White House, a day when America’s President will, once again, be a President for the people and not cultivate a personal fan club.
But we are not naive. We realize the exit of Donald Trump does not mean the disappearance of what he stands for. The “dawn of a new day” in America will not usher in immediate reconciliation. If Donald Trump accomplished anything during his tenure, it was the exposure of heretofore largely hidden deep bias in Americans and a “what about ME” mentality that overrides all other motivations. Donald Trump reawakened prejudice, compromised truth, and legitimized cruelty; none of these things will disappear when he leaves the White House.
While the rejoicing in the streets for Biden/Harris is encouraging, neither this public display of patriotism nor the number of votes for Biden translates into total support for the President-elect. Many votes for Biden/Harris were votes against Donald Trump rather than for the Democratic ticket, and much of the ensuing celebration over the Biden/Harris win was joy over the Trump defeat. Surely, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris know this, but they also know every vote for Biden/Harris, and the joy over their success, is an expression of patriotism, a rejection of Donald Trump’s questionable politics, and a joyous, public acknowledgement that, yes, “we are better than this.”
Welcome back to what will hopefully be kinder, gentler America.