Joe Biden: The Decency Is the Point

Joe Biden: The Decency Is the Point

The former VP apparently won a decisive victory, but the sore loser in the White House is not expected to concede. Guess what: He doesn’t have to.


As Never Trumper Rick Wilson put it early on in this four-year nightmare, everything Donald Trump touches dies—or #ETTD, as the hashtag had it. Right now, the miserable president is managing to kill much of the joy Democrats ought to be feeling over Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s historic win. We are still waiting for major news outlets to call the race for Biden-Harris, hours after it became obvious that Trump lost in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and, most importantly, Pennsylvania, given what we know about where the outstanding ballots lie. (Even in Trump counties, in all four states, they’re mostly mail-ins coming from Democrats, and they are little by little dooming him.)

Still, despite the near-certainty of that win, many of us remain in a defensive crouch waiting for the onslaught of lies and lawsuits designed to obscure the legitimate outcome of this long race. They can’t succeed, but they can make it a very long month.

Luckily, most of the media isn’t having it. When the remarkably deranged president came out during network news hours to spew lies about “illegal votes” Thursday night, almost all of them cut away and began to instead immediately fact-check him, rather than just broadcast his pernicious delusions. CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale tweeted: “I’ve read or watched all of Trump’s speeches since 2016. This is the most dishonest speech he has ever given.”

That’s the good news: Unlike in 2000, when networks and news outlets seemed befuddled by the Florida recount and too often parroted GOP claims, while systematically missing the central story—the disenfranchisement of the state’s black voters in county after county, leading to Al Gore’s supposed “loss”—this time around they don’t seem to be falling for the GOP’s con.

There’s more good news: Sometime just before dawn, Biden took a narrow lead in Georgia thanks to ballots from Clayton County, home of civil rights icon John Lewis, who didn’t get to see this day. When I saw that fact, that happy omen, I realized Lewis would want all of us to find joy in this moment. So choose joy this weekend—and worry about GOP obstruction on Monday.

Here’s why: It looks like Biden will win decisively. He is on a path to take the Electoral College by the same margin Trump did four years ago, 306 to 262. Only instead of losing the popular vote by almost 3 million, as Trump did to Hillary Clinton, Biden will probably wind up with a popular-vote lead of more than 6 million, once all the outstanding California ballots come in. He did it by remaking the “blue wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that Hillary Clinton lost narrowly—but he also apparently won two states Democrats have long dreamed of turning blue: Arizona and Georgia.

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has to be one of the first people Biden thanks. Not only has she worked tirelessly to overcome voter suppression and, apparently, turned Georgia blue—even if she lost her 2018 race by a narrow 55,000 votes—she set up a situation in which Democrats can yet take the Senate. Both Democratic Senate challengers, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, eked their way into a January runoff with the GOP incumbents. Their win would give Democrats a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by apparent Vice President–elect Kamala Devi Harris.

We must also not let Trump destroy the thrill of electing our first female vice president, who happens to be a black woman with an Indian immigrant mother. I very much wish Shyamala Gopalan Harris, along with John Lewis, could celebrate this moment. Gopalan Harris, a single mom and scientist, played her own role in making her daughter’s shining success possible. Four years ago, many of us grieved the loss of our dream of electing our first female president; today, the dream is alive again, as Harris becomes the presumptive front-runner for 2024 or 2028. I give you permission: Let’s feel that joy right now!

To be honest, a year ago, I much preferred the idea of President Harris, or President Elizabeth Warren, to President Joe Biden. And I let my preference for a female president blind me to Biden’s political strengths. I wrote an unnecessarily snarky piece; I just did not believe he could win. He felt like a reach backward when we needed to move into the future, with his old-timey approach to… let’s just call it personal space, especially women’s, and his repeated promises of bipartisanship, which seemed delusional. But apparently a whole lot of people found his message, calling for a return to normalcy and decency, exactly what was needed.

Trump may have survived Covid personally, but his presidency did not. It has been poignant, and fitting, to see his election night margin of “victory” be steadily eroded by a blue wave of mail-in ballots. They’re messages of hope from Democrats trying to protect themselves from Covid, and also protect their country from Trump’s deliberate mishandling of the crisis, by using absentee ballots in record numbers—even despite Trump’s Postal Service’s obstruction. Biden turned out to be the right man for this moment. His life has been defined by loss—from the death of his wife and daughter when he first went to the Senate, to the excruciating passing of his son Beau in 2015—making him a reassuring presence on the campaign trail in this year when we’ve lost 235,000 Americans, and will lose more still. He met people’s fears of the disease and the heartbreak of those who’d lost loved ones with his trademark warmth.

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer created another touchstone of Trump-era commentary with his piece “The Cruelty Is The Point” back in October 2018. By contrast, Biden’s decency is the point: It allowed him to unify the Democratic Party, to forge strong personal and even policy bonds with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to his left, and to make his toughest debate critic, Harris, his vice presidential partner, when some Democrats openly asked how he could ever trust her. Yes, I still worry Biden will be too close to Republicans and corporate America, but for now, I’ll luxuriate in decency.

We’ll be looking at the demographic data behind the Biden-Harris win for a long time. Unfortunately, many polls were once again wrong, especially in Senate races. The result is alarming: Not only is Biden still likely to face Mitch McConnell as the obstructionist majority leader—at least until Warnock and Ossoff win their races—he will also face senators like Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis, who instead of being punished for their craven defense of Trump in the last four years were rewarded. Let’s be clear: Trump’s voter turnout helped save some vulnerable GOP senators, as well as knock off some vulnerable Democratic House members, even if he couldn’t save himself. Thus Republicans right now have little incentive to try to get Trump to face reality and stand down; Graham, shamefully, even suggested Thursday night that they should look at options like having Republican legislatures overrule electors and award their states to Trump. (On Friday, he backed away from that.) Meanwhile, Georgia’s GOP secretary of state has already announced that he will oversee a recount of that state’s votes, even if it’s not yet clear that it’s legally required.

Nevertheless, let’s celebrate the overwhelming number of people who braved Covid and threats of violence and retribution from Republicans to come out to try to save democracy. We are almost certainly going to wind up with record turnout, in the realm of 160 million voters—roughly two-thirds of potential voters and maybe 80 percent of registered voters. We are going to have our first female vice president. We are going to have an adult back in the White House. There will be some rough days ahead, whether because of Trump’s deranged refusal to leave, or standard-issue Republican obstruction, even if he willingly departs. Let’s store up some joy and energy to fight those battles. Two days ago, I blamed “us” for the then-uncertain election outcome. Watching these blue ballots wash in, I’m proud of us. We didn’t do everything we needed to, but ousting Trump was the necessary precondition for what must come next. People get ready.

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