For five days, the world’s attention was occupied almost entirely by one of the most fraught US elections in years. A record number of ballots were cast, and many are still being counted.
But the result is clear. Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger, has won. The contest is over, though the story, perhaps, is not. Donald Trump, the incumbent, continues to insist upon his own victory and the existence of a vast conspiracy against him.
The story will continue as Mr Trump’s claim moves through various states’ administrative and judicial organs. For now, however, the most pressing questions lie not in the validity of the President-elect Biden’s victory (most believe his position to be secure) but rather in his opening moves and statements.
Mr Biden has already begun penning a new story. In his first speech as President-elect on Saturday, he stressed the need to “heal America” after a divisive presidential race. Mr Trump is a polarising figure. At home and abroad, he is either loved or loathed. There is hardly a middle ground, neither in his own opinions nor in opinions of him. Restoring the middle ground’s place in American politics will be among Mr Biden’s most important tasks.
Mr Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, reflects his desire to represent a wider group of Americans. Women proved to be one of the most difficult demographic groups for Mr Trump to win over. Ms Harris will now be the first female vice president in American history. “Every little girl watching tonight,” she pointed out yesterday, “sees that this is a country of possibilities.
America will need to heal from more than its partisan divisions. Yesterday, the country’s tally of officially recorded coronavirus cases reached nearly 10.2 million. Daily infections continue to break the previous day’s records. Images from the campaign trail demonstrate how differently both contenders for the presidency viewed the pandemic. Mr Biden’s team were hardly ever seen without masks and sanitiser. Mr Trump’s endeavoured, for as long as possible, to project a bygone sense of normality.
That desperation for a more care-free time is understandable, given the harsh economic toll pandemic-related measures have wrought on America’s workers. Mr Trump’s economic record was, in voters’ eyes, one of his great strengths. Mr Biden will have to balance the difficult work of bringing his country in line with new international public health standards, while shielding the economy from further deterioration. He will also have to appreciate that so much of his constituency of more are suspicious of his party’s economic agenda; fears of a wild swing to the left were a key reason Democrats failed to win over Latino Americans whose families had fled dysfunctional, socialist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
Mr Biden’s economic plan, above all, will need to navigate ideological divisions while maintaining its reach for ambitious environmental targets. He has pledged to invest $1.7 trillion in renewables and to make the US a carbon-neutral country by 2050.
Most immediately, however, Mr Biden will need to turn his attention to racial inequality. The waves of protests that hit American streets in the aftermath of the police killing of an unarmed African American George Floyd subsided, for the most part, as voters were going to the polls. But the issues driving them are not yet resolved and the protest movement will not be over. Mr Trump was successful in projecting to the 71 million Americans who voted for him a concern for law and order. It will now be on Mr Biden to imbue that desire for stability with a sense of deep compassion.
“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify.. who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States”, Mr Biden promised. What, one wonders, will the United States see in President Biden?