When all the counting is done, Joe Biden will have received about 80 million votes. That number is unprecedented: Four years ago, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election, she got fewer than 66 million votes. No candidate for president of the United States has ever received more than 70 million votes.
A big, blue wave of Democratic Party support washed across America in the fall of 2020. It took a while to crest, but it’s why Mr. Biden on Friday was poised to win enough Electoral College votes to be headed to the White House.
But at the same time as that blue tsunami was making landfall, America was also being hit, from the opposite direction, by a big red Republican breaker.
In 2016, President Donald Trump pulled down just shy of 63 million votes. His final tally this year will be about 10 million votes higher. He will have received more ballots than any presidential candidate ever, save the one who ran against him.
Despite the pandemic, more Americans voted than ever before – for both parties. That’s why Mr. Biden’s victory has taken days of counting to achieve, and finalizing it will involve recounts and litigation.
It’s also why the hope of delivering a crushing defeat to Trumpism has not been realized. Mr. Trump is headed out, but it was a near-run thing. Democratic support grew; support for Mr. Trump grew by almost as much. Democrats had hoped to take control of the White House and both chambers of Congress; they instead find themselves holding fewer seats in the House of Representatives, albeit still holding a majority, but likely to fall shy of a majority in the Senate.
As the song goes, two out of three ain’t bad. But with a Republican Party that has spent two decades worshipping at the altar of obstruction, Democratic control of only two of three bodies may guarantee gridlock. If Republicans retain even a one-seat Senate majority, Mr. Biden’s platform of expanding health care, improving the environment and raising taxes on the wealthy may be dead on arrival.
How divided is America? Fear of Mr. Trump got out the vote for the Democrats; fear of the Democrats was the GOP’s get-out-the-vote strategy. Each side has become the other’s living, breathing attack ad. Each side treats the other as its side’s best reason to vote.
A culture war runs through the country. A lot of those who voted Republican feel that they are the most underrepresented group in American culture and in its elite institutions of arts, media and education.
As for the progressives who bestride American culture, they spent the Trump years estranged from the political leadership, and embattled by it. Each thinks it’s the oppressed minority. It’s a recipe for conflict.
Mr. Trump is a product of the culture war, but also its executive producer. After four years of fomenting division, he’s not ready to have his show cancelled. So he’s claiming, without a shred of evidence, that he’s the victim of a massive voter fraud. Some Republican legislators are shrugging and ignoring him. Some are lining up to double down.
It’s nonsense, but destructive nonsense is what Mr. Trump sells. A slow count in a close race is a problem, because one of the candidates is an arsonist of democracy, with a book of matches and an itchy finger.
Republican and Democrat voters have deep differences, and the two camps increasingly do not know one another, with rural areas and the working class ever more red, and cities and the highly educated ever more blue. But common ground exists. Consider Florida.
In 2016, the state’s voters chose Mr. Trump. But at the same time, they also strongly backed a ballot measure restoring voting rights to millions of ex-convicts. And when a majority of Floridians went for Mr. Trump again this year, they also voted to substantially increase the state’s minimum wage, to US$15 an hour.
If anyone has a shot at bridging the political divides, it’s Mr. Biden. He tried hard to reach blue-collar Americans, the former backbone of the Democratic Party, and his recapture of the rust-belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is a very good sign. So too is his inroad in Georgia, long part of an all-red South.
Four years of Donald Trump raised America’s temperature. Joe Biden will try to lower it.
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