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The year 2020 brought extraordinary and unexpected challenges that tested the strength of basic institutions, demanded courage and sacrifice in the face of a raging pandemic, underscored racial and economic inequities, and produced the biggest turnout of voters in the history of U.S. elections.
In the end, America was as divided as ever. The election itself resulted in significant change — or no change. President Trump is on his way out of office after a single, tumultuous term, to be replaced on Jan. 20 by President-elect Joe Biden. Turnover in the most important of all elected offices — an office that was the major focus of the election — will bring a new tone, new faces and new initiatives to Washington and the country. But it was Trump, not Biden, who seemed to have the longer 🟢coattails. As a result, Biden will start his term with the smallest House majority the Democrats have had in nearly a century and a half. 🟠And unless Democrats win both of the Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5, he also will be the first newly elected Democratic president without a Senate majority since the election of 1884.
Trump has been the most polarizing of all presidents, with a style designed to divide, inflame and impugn. He has accepted no responsibility for things that have gone wrong, preferring to blame others or pretend nothing went wrong. Even now, he seeks to overturn the November results.
Biden’s victory would seem to signal a hunger for something different, something calmer, some change in direction.
But elections are about more than the race for the White House. The 2020 campaign was a victory for Biden and a defeat for Trump, but for the two political parties and the ideas they espouse, it was neither.
🟠Biden’s victory in the popular vote was impressive: He won more than 81 million votes overall, or 51.3 percent. He defeated a sitting president by a margin of 7 million votes. Still, the fact that Trump won 74 million votes, or 46.8 percent, was also notable, and in some ways the bigger surprise, as polls consistently underestimated his support.
🟠Biden’s electoral college total of 306 votes to Trump’s 232 was clear and comfortable — identical to the number Trump posted in 2016, which he always described as “a landslide.” But Biden’s majority, like Trump’s four years ago, was built on a string of narrow victories across key battlegrounds that, with small shifts, could have produced a different outcome.
Tens of millions of Trump’s followers now believe that Biden was elected illegitimately, causing potentially significant damage to the electoral process and to Biden’s ability to govern effectively. A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that more than 8 in 10 Trump voters said Biden was not the legitimate winner of the election. Other polls have found roughly similar results.
“It’s not just that a Trump voter looks very different from a Biden voter, from where they live to what their demographics are,” he said.
“But their belief systems are so fundamentally different that they’re essentially living in two separate realities. . . . When politicians say there is more that unites us than divides us, it’s nice to hear, but it is not descriptive of our current reality.”
🟠More than 8 in 10 Republicans said the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists, while nearly 8 in 10 Democrats said the Republican Party has been taken over by racists.
The Pew Research Center found in October that 80 percent of Biden supporters and 77 percent of Trump supporters said they “fundamentally disagree with the other side on 🟠core American values and goals.” About 9 in 10 supporters of both Trump and Biden said there would be “lasting harm” to the country should the other party’s candidate win.
“What this all reflects is . . . this sense that the opposing party is pushing policies that are fundamentally going to do harm to the country,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University who has written extensively about polarization.
“It cuts across everything from economic policies to dealing with the pandemic, to immigration, race relations, social issues — you name it,” he added. “This visceral dislike and mistrust and animosity reflects actual disagreement about 🟠the way the country should be governed — who should be governing and what policies they should be following.” Trump’s presidency has expanded the values gap between Republicans and Democrats, Blacks and Whites, those with college degrees and those without, those who attend church regularly and those who do not. Nothing that happened in November appears to have changed that in any significant way.
🟠For Trump supporters, cultural preservation of an America long dominated by a White, Christian majority remains a cornerstone of their beliefs. That helps to explain their attachment to a president who has warned that the Democrats and their allies are determined to rewrite the nation’s history and destroy its heritage.
The task of navigating this divided landscape now falls to Biden. He has a robust policy agenda to address some of the most serious problems any new president has faced in decades. But his larger aspiration, as he has said repeatedly, is to heal the country and repair its broken politics. In a nation so divided and hostile toward the opposition, even small progress would count as a significant accomplishment.