Some Immediate Thoughts on the Election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

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November 7, 2020 1:44 p.m.

Joe Biden had one job: to get 270 electoral votes. He did it. Nothing succeeds like success and really nothing matters but success. Not margins or coalitions or really anything but the fact that he got it done. Excuses would be meaningless if he hadn’t; second-guessing and potshots from the bleachers are equally so.

This isn’t the end of anything. We can see from the results even of this victorious election what just some of those challenges will be. What this is is an opportunity to stop the knifing attacks on the body politic, the fabric of our government and our almost quarter millennium old republic. How much we can repair, how much we can shift the trajectory of the country away from the decay and opaque transformations that made Trump possible … that’s all in front of us and unknown.

It is also far more than okay to embrace and exult in this moment of victory. It is not just acceptable. There is a moral imperative to do so. As much as policies or particular ideas political movements and coalitions are communities, ones that suffer reverses and victories as communities, either well or poorly. How they do so isn’t just a matter of individual experience. These choices can sustain and grow political power, something political movements are always in the midst of gaining or dissipating. It is important to relish the fruits of the common exertions of a political coalition you are part of. It doesn’t just feel good. It sustains and builds power, the experience and proof that hard work and the seemingly endless exertions can have a real and tangible impact on the world we live in. No one will celebrate your victories for you. You can’t be powerful if you don’t act powerful.

I wrote this in a very different post four years ago: Optimism isn’t principally an analysis of present reality. It’s an ethic. It is not based on denial or rosy thinking. It is a moral posture toward the world we find ourselves in. If everything seems great, there’s no need for optimism. The river of good news just carries you along. Celebration and even exultation are another of these moral postures to the world we find ourselves in, an expression of commitment to our dignity and our values.

Imagine waking up this morning and realizing that Donald Trump would be President for another four years and all that would flow from that. And now realize that that that didn’t happen. You did that.

A few thoughts on Joe Biden.

We see again the vast consequence of Barack Obama’s decision to choose Biden as his running mate in 2008. Certainly this moment doesn’t happen without that choice. One of the things we know about life is that of course no one is perfect. People have foibles and reverses, sometimes devastating ones. But there are these confluences of events when a person has their moment, qualities which may have been liabilities or simply mundanities in most circumstances are suddenly matched to history. The qualities that perhaps for much of his political career simply made Joe Biden a decent guy or someone with a big heart made him a perfect foil for Donald Trump and all the selfishness and casual aggression that typifies him. As Adam Serwer has aptly captured it, with Trump, the cruelty is the point. With Biden empathy and an open handed embrace of suffering close to define his public persona.

Whether these qualities are of great political significance and value or will serve him well as President I can’t tell you. But to me it is one of these moments where a person who has had both failures and successes arrives at a juncture in history where his qualities are precisely suited to the moment.

He must feel that the winds of history are at his back. And he should.

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