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Roads taken / November 05, 2020
With its weird slew of vote returns coming in fast and furious, Tuesday night looked for a time like the most 2020 thing ever in this accursed year of 2020: a budding general election disaster leading to a wholesale breakdown of public order, with fellow citizens in a closely divided nation at each others’ throats over the identity of the next president. Daylight, thankfully, brought some clarity.

Barring a massively unexpected reversal of fortune, Joe Biden should become the 46th President of the United States. On Wednesday, Biden won Wisconsin and Michigan, two of the three “blue wall” states that parted ways with 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Biden held leads in Arizona and Nevada that were slim but likely to grow, which would put him at 270 electoral votes, handing him the presidency. Biden also appeared to be on track to win Pennsylvania and possibly Georgia, and will probably finish the race with a popular vote advantage well north of 6 million ahead of Donald Trump.

Whether you feel like your side won or lost, no one should welcome the prospect of Hanging Chad 2.0 looming over America: we’ve got enough problems as it is. It wasn’t all bad news for Republicans Tuesday night. Barring another implausible turnabout of events, Republicans will hold onto their majority in the U.S. Senate, and GOP candidates made gains in the House of Representatives, cutting into the Democratic lead by an unknown margin. Stay tuned.

In the Fifth District, Cameron Webb ran roughly on par with the Democratic candidate for the seat two years ago, Leslie Cockburn, losing by around seven points. Cockburn ran against Denver Riggleman, and Webb ran against Congressman-elect Bob Good, who earned the party’s nomination by knocking off incumbent Riggleman at a June convention to earn the GOP nomination. Different years, different candidates, same basic result.

There were some fine differences — Halifax County voters were slightly less bullish on Good than they were on Riggleman back in 2018 (county win shares were 57.5 percent for Riggleman, 55.9 percent for Good) — and surprisingly, there were some areas (neighboring Mecklenburg being one of them) where Good ran stronger than Donald Trump. In Halifax, Trump got almost exactly the same share of the 2020 vote that he did in 2016: 57 percent, give or take a tenth of a point. Trump beat Good’s returns in Halifax, but the ticket frontrunner was another figure in the race — the county’s Confederate soldier statue, which garnered 60 percent support for staying right where it is.

Elsewhere, my gawd. Polling was so hit-or-miss as to be rendered effectively useless, except in specific situations. Donald Trump may be so sui genesis that some semblance of political predictability will only return when and if he is ushered off the stage, but who knows. It does seem clear that there’s really such a thing as Shy Trump voters (can’t say I’ve met such folks myself), and the passion Trump inspires among the Republican base may or may not be transferable to a successor. Obama had a similar ability to draw voters to the polls that other Democrats have not been able to match, although Biden does appear to have prevailed with a somewhat different coalition. Biden will certainly finish this race as the leading vote getting in American history.

It’s been a tough campaign, and true to form, there’s talk of “coming together” in the air. Nice to think — maybe Biden truly can be the unifying leader he plainly hopes to be — but such a thing is hard to imagine. Still, it’s not nothing that America would pull back from the ledge, reaffirming its cherished tradition of peaceful transfer of power against the threat of a sitting president who has no intention of playing by traditional rules and even less desire to leave the White House. Trump has been playing with fire since taking office, and he shows no inclination to put down the matches and gas cans just yet.

For the good part of three years, Trump’s recklessness has been excused and overlooked amid relative good economic times and peace around the world (for the most part). Then the pandemic hit, and tens of thousands of Americans died unnecessarily because of the incompetence and malice of this president. (Imagine how much better off we’d be if only Trump had endorsed mask-wearing instead of turning such a simple act into a political cudgel.) Will Trump lose because of the pandemic? I actually subscribe to the school of thought that says the coronavirus ultimately gave him a boost in this race, albeit by not quite enough. People are understandably sick of living their crimped lives under the shadow of this virus, and Trump was a vocal proponent of everyone going about their daily business, the numbers at the morgue be damned. Likely as not, it was a potent message politically. Morally, not so much.

The path forward is unclear as Red America and Blue America confront the very real prospect of a nasty divorce in the wake of the Trump years (assuming those are even over). So let’s leave the final word with someone who knew a thing or two about times of national conflict. Ladies and gentleman, the greatest Republican president in American history, and our greatest president period:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

— Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

.. To be continued

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