12.11.20


Like London buses, you wait months for a proper good news story and then two absolutely belters come along at once. Hot on the heels of confirmation that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump for the US Presidency came news this week of a breakthrough in the search for a Covid vaccine. For some, such a rapid surge in optimism could see them reaching for the smelling salts.

Of course, it would be sensible for now to defer judgment on the vaccine, but the early signs are undeniably promising. Biden’s victory, or Trump’s defeat, however you wish to view it, is, however, one to be savoured in the moment.

Over five days and nights, it was a struggle to tear oneself away from the unfolding excitement, with CNN’s output proving alarmingly addictive. Each will have their own favourite moment from the slow-motion demise of this most divisive and corrosive of presidencies, but for me it was the sight of Trump supporters demanding to “stop the count” in states where their man was ahead while bellowing “count the votes” in those contests where he was behind. Priceless.

Counting all the votes in an election should not be a controversial notion in any self-respecting democracy. Making allegations of election fraud requires hard evidence. And simply taking to Twitter to assert you have won the election while millions of votes have still to be counted has as much credibility as me boldly declaring that Sanday won the Parish Cup this year.

This, though, is an end game of Trump’s creation. For months, Trump falsely claimed postal voting was wide open to abuse with the result that most of his supporters rejected this option. Biden capitalised by signing up unprecedented numbers for mail-in ballots, increasing the likelihood of those votes being cast, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. Trump may cry foul but he has no-one to blame but himself.

As decisive as the victory has been, however, it’s not the overwhelming repudiation of Trumpism that Democrats, and others worldwide, had craved. The President’s tally of 70m votes is the largest for a US presidential candidate, save for the 73m amassed by Joe Biden. This remains a deeply and fiercely divided country.

So it has been good to hear the President-elect talk repeatedly about the need to put aside the rhetoric of the campaign and to heal divisions. Along with Kamala Harris, destined to be the first female Vice President, Biden is expected to appoint a broad-ranging Cabinet, possibly drawing from Republican ranks as well. Yet, many in both camps are in no mood to set aside their differences.

From a parochial perspective, the implications for the UK remain unclear, but the Prime Minister has certainly lost his White House ally over Brexit. Biden has also made plain his determination to intervene should the UK’s withdrawal from the EU imperil the Good Friday Agreement or peace in Northern Ireland. Moreover, a US-UK trade deal does not look high on the President-elect’s list of priorities.

On a more positive note, we can look forward to US re-engagement both in the World Health Organisation and on global efforts to combat climate change. On immigration too, a change of tone as well as substance seems likely.

And that change of tone matters. Biden won this election in part because many American voters are exhausted by the antics of the President. They are tired of his endless boasting and baiting; of politics delivered in CAPITAL LETTERS, in your face and at all hours of the day. They want a rest. Cue Sleepy Joe Biden.

I was struck by Biden’s reminder to Americans at the weekend that, in politics, they may have “opponents” but not “enemies”. For me, it was a poignant echo of remarks made by Jim Sillars on behalf of his late wife, Margo Macdonald at her memorial service. Back in April 2014, the independence referendum campaign was reaching boiling point: divisions in communities, workplaces and households were increasingly evident. Since then, of course, Brexit has only served to entrench those divisions while opening others.

Perhaps we could all do with a little more calm in our politics for a while.


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