Biden's victory cannot mean complacency

Biden's victory cannot mean complacency
Comment: America may have survived Trump, but now we must work to shore up the cracks in the foundation of our fragile democracy, writes Zaina Ujayli.
5 min read
03 Nov, 2020
VP Biden was declared president-elect of the US on Saturday [Getty]
On Saturday morning, Joseph R. Biden was elected as the 46th president of the United States.

Despite Donald Trump's likely fruitless lawsuits in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, a free and fair election has ended his time in the White House.

However, in this moment of victory, we cannot pretend we have turned a page on this chapter of American history. We cannot let this democratic victory convince us of a return to normal. Whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, the Trump presidency has held Americans captive in a seemingly endless cycle of "breaking news". The Biden campaign has run, in contrast, on the promise of a White House without chaos. 

As a candidate, Biden's name on the ballot evoked a sense of return, of reversing the path the Trump presidency was taking us down, and giving Americans the chance to breathe. It is this promise of normalcy which won Biden the democratic primary over progressive candidates espousing dramatic change, which won Biden the votes from moderates and conservatives, and which ultimately won him the election.

However, when Donald Trump eventually leaves the White House, he will not carry the chaos out with him. This election was dramatically close, and the thin margins across the country prove that America has not denounced Donald Trump. Instead, record numbers of Americans went to the polls supporting him. They tell the story of a country divided. 

The last four years will be defined in our memories not only by the over 200,000 dead at the hands of a poor public health response, but by their divisive rhetoric. The end of political correctness, as Trump and his supporters like to call it, has left the nation reeling at the hatred and vitriol which emerged not only from the White House, but from the homes of friends and family.
The present calls on us to advocate for President Biden not to make the same mistakes as Vice President Biden

As a result, I don't see a country enraged or triumphant today. I see a country that is grieving. Grieving for the loss of security at the hands of economic devastation and wildfires. Grieving for our dead. Grieving, too, for our collective realisation, those who voted for Biden, those who voted for Trump, and those who hated both, that we live in a country whose other half we cannot recognise. So many Americans see our country as broken, and we blame one another for the shattered pieces.

In President-Elect Biden's first statement after his victory, he wrote that "With the campaign over, it's time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation. It's time for America to unite. And to heal. We are the United States of America. And there's nothing we can't do, if we do it together." However, even as Biden calls for America to heal, we must recognize that if the Trump presidency did us any good, it was to show us that our country was scarred before he ever ran for president. 

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Trump did not divide us. He took advantage of the fissures among us and dramatised them. Many of the same issues which we argue about today, we argued about when Biden was Vice President. Massive deportations, racism, the growth of right-wing militias, drone strikes, increasing income disparity, and climate change created just as fervent debates under Obama and Biden as they did under Trump. We cannot return to normal because normal brought us here.

The present calls on us to advocate for President Biden not to make the same mistakes as Vice President Biden, and to address the challenges we failed to meet four years ago. The present calls on us, too, to recognise the vulnerability of our democracy.

If we look at the rise of authoritarianism in other countries, we see that it does not come like a tsunami wave, but instead like the steady hammering of the tide. America may have survived a strong wave, but if we do not shore up the cracks in the foundation, we may find ourselves worse off the next time a candidate like Trump eventually comes to power again.

We must use the next four years to strengthen our democratic institutions. This means investing in our local news media who understand their communities and advocate for them, incorporating media literacy into our school curriculums, challenging the growing partisanship in our judiciary, and dismantling the electoral college. It means bolstering voting rights across the country, expecting fact-checking of our politicians, and more.

America, Take a breath. Take a victory lap, then come back because a return to normal is not a triumph

So, America, Take a breath. Take a victory lap, then come back because a return to normal is not a triumph. The fires in California will not stop burning. The pandemic will not fade away, and the police brutality will not end unless we hold the Biden presidency to account like the Trump presidency.

The hatred and vitriol which has become commonplace in our American discourse needs to be challenged just as fervently by the average citizen under Biden as it was under Trump, and we need to continue finding new ways to listen and learn from one another to stop the hatred from spreading.  

It is going to be hard work turning normal into a triumph, but that has been the American project since its founding. We are the children of revolution and talking back to power - all of us, Republican or Democrat - and we have inherited a long tradition of fighting the powerful to make the everyday better for more and more of our peers. It's the American thing to do, and as Americans proved, despite all odds and efforts, Americans do it best.

Zaina Ujayli is an MA student at The University of Virginia focusing on nineteenth and twentieth century Arab and Arab American writers.

Follow her on Twitter: @zainaujayli

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.