There are reasons for both Democrats and Republicans to be happy

American democratic norms and processes prevailed

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Saturday in Washington was like nothing I have experienced in 22 years living in this city. Horns honked, cheers resounded, fireworks crackled and people danced in the streets. It felt like a long, painful war was ending with an almost visceral wave of relief.

Four days after the US election, major news organisations finally and unanimously announced that Democrat Joe Biden had won. President Donald Trump and his allies angrily insist that he somehow is the real winner but they have no coherent narrative to explain why.

Against a backdrop of unprecedented anxiety, the 2020 election mainly produced good news. For many, there’s profound satisfaction that Mr Trump was defeated. Many distinguished figures had warned that a second Trump term could pose an existential threat to democratic institutions, accountability and the rule of law. A major counter-argument was that he lacked the ability, but not the instinct, to push for autocracy.

Any such danger has been avoided.

The presidential win is cathartic for Democrats. It is rare and increasingly difficult to unseat a sitting president.

And the numbers are impressive. In 2016, Mr Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the electoral college by securing 306 votes, though she won the popular tally by almost 3 million. Mr Biden is also heading for 306, but is beating Mr Trump by over 4m popular votes, a double mandate.

Democrats reconstructed the mid-western "blue wall" that Mr Trump grabbed in 2016, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They scored major breakthroughs in traditionally Republican Arizona and Georgia. Democrats would have salivated over this map 12 months ago, though their hopes became exaggerated more recently.

But there's much to please Republicans, too. They made surprising gains in the House of Representatives and crucial state legislatures. Control of the Senate will be decided by two January run-off elections in Georgia. If Republicans win both, they can effectively wield a veto over most of Mr Biden's domestic agenda.

Mr Trump helped inspire the biggest voter turnout in over a century, which was also due to expanded postal and early voting because of the pandemic.

In what was effectively a Trump referendum, no votes prevailed by 4-5m. But there were over 70m yeses, including most of his 2016 voters and significantly expanded blocs of Latinos and African-Americans, particularly younger men who appear to admire his swagger.

So, while many Republicans may be despondent, their party actually did fairly well.

Republican leaders might quietly welcome the potential end of Mr Trump's party leadership. But their refusal to publicly acknowledge Mr Biden's victory suggests they are still terrified of Mr Trump's base, and unwilling to defy him.

American democratic norms and processes prevailed. None of the well-publicised nightmare scenarios played out.

Though an anti-democratic hazard was soundly rejected, the best news of all was non-partisan, structural and institutional. Political systems functioned admirably despite profound social and partisan polarisation and the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign meddling was contained. There was no violence or intimidation at polling places and no effort to disrupt the election process. Irregularities appear minor at worst.

State and local administrators who oversee American elections generally behaved impeccably. Democratic and Republican officials, and countless volunteers and election officers, worked together across the country without incident or rancour.

Americans in their conduct overwhelmingly upheld cherished democratic norms and traditions. The country may be polarised, but citizens on both the left and right appear sincerely committed to these values and mores. This is profoundly reassuring.

Mr Trump may be hoping that the Supreme Court, now bolstered with his latest conservative appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, will intervene and save him, as he repeatedly predicted it would during the campaign. He is going to be deeply disappointed.

This result is not within what is cynically but accurately called "cheating distance", and no pending case would overturn the outcome. If the court tried to overturn a free and fair election on a technicality, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis and do irreversible damage to the institution.

Mr Biden’s challenges will be enormous. He inherits a country still beset by a raging pandemic and struggling economy, and deeply divided along partisan, cultural and ethnic lines.

In his first speech as President-elect, he pledged to end the "grim era of demonisation” under Mr Trump and rebuild a spirit of compromise, co-operation and bipartisanship, but that won't be easy.

Much depends on what happens in the Senate, through both its composition as determined by the two Georgia run-off races, and the strategy adopted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He ground governance to a virtual halt during much of the Barack Obama presidency, and could choose to repeat that strategy.

Mr Trump ought to help matters by at least acknowledging his defeat, but he seems incapable of that. He appears determined to promulgate a classic right-wing "stabbed in the back" theory that insists he is still the legitimate President, and so exacerbate tensions and further divide Americans.

Once he's gone, however unwillingly, much of the country will try to move on. But the willingness and ability of the Republican Party to get past the Trump era remains an open question

Reports suggest he might nonetheless be willing to negotiate a normal transfer of power. His terms are unclear, but he faces significant potential criminal charges at both the federal and state levels, and has reportedly expressed concern he may face prosecution when he loses the protection of the presidency. He could be hoping for salvation through the art of the deal.

Mr Trump will probably be the first modern US President to refuse to concede defeat and participate in his successor’s inauguration. More likely is a new media-centred career of insisting that he’s still the real President and American democracy is a corrupt fraud.

He could inflict significant national damage while he is still formally in office until January 20, but he could also be restrained or even ignored, including by subordinates. His options might be more limited in practice than in theory.

Once he's gone, however unwillingly, much of the country will try to move on. But the willingness and ability of the Republican Party to get past the Trump era remains an open question. The immediate US political future may hang on the answer.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States ­Institute and a US affairs columnist for The National