In the final days leading up to the election, professor, conservative author and never-Trumper Tom Nichols summed up perfectly, in a column for USA Today, the choice the American people were presented with.

Nichols, who has been a necessary and courageous voice the last four years, and who seems to retain an appreciation for personal character that conservatives in this country once valued much more dearly, wrote about the damage this presidency has brought upon the republic and warned that four more years of Trump would “take those wounds and make them a permanent scar on our national soul.”

Here’s a key segment of the piece:

“Trump’s loyalists and lackeys have made their choice, and Trump’s legacy is their burden to carry. The rest of us, however, must ask ourselves questions that transcend politics. We have to ask ourselves about our duty as citizens, about who we are, about how we want to talk to each other, to our families, to our children and grandchildren about what we did at this moment of national crisis. We are living through the most dangerous time in our modern history since the reign of terror led by the odious Joseph McCarthy. It's a worse time, in fact, because at least we didn’t make McCarthy president. Now, as in the 1950s, we have to decide what we stand for."

The American people have made their decision and chosen to go down a much different path than the one we’ve been treading. We have elected a fundamentally good man of honor and integrity to lead this country — a man who has spent his life overcoming obstacles and who has faced immeasurable pain and grief from the loss of loved ones, but one who has never lost sight of what he came to realize was his purpose in life. He is, hopefully, a man the country can rally around as we work to carve out a better way forward toward achieving a “more perfect” union.

•••

Joe Biden will inherit a country that is very much at a crossroads, and priority No. 1 must be a full commitment to ending this horrible pandemic that has killed nearly 240,000 Americans and continues to spread across the U.S. at record levels. Along with many other challenges that sit before us, he understands in a broader sense that while we will continue to have disagreements as a people, we must begin the work of healing a sharply divided nation. That was a major theme in his victory speech Saturday night.

But in order for us to make progress in achieving true reconciliation, we as a people are going to have to come to terms with the fact that basic truths have been dangerously thrown into question and recognize that our most fundamental institutions have been and continue to be under active assault. And we can no longer afford to give license to those who would run those institutions into the ground.

Donald Trump has, without question and unapologetically so, been the ring-leader of this reckless crusade and has been more responsible than anyone for pouring gasoline on the fire that is eroding responsible, critical discourse in this country. And he is showing no signs of deviating from that approach right up until the bitter end.

Trump, who along with his GOP and right-wing media enablers has concocted a parallel universe for his base to reside in, can throw out all the baseless claims and conspiracy theories about rampant voter fraud he wants to. He can, and is entitled to, toss all the legal spaghetti against the wall that he wants to in order to delay the inevitable. But he lost this election and was largely repudiated while Republicans in down-ballot races fared much better. And come noon on Jan. 20, he will be out of the White House — whether he leaves voluntarily or not.

The reality is this: Had Trump not been so brazenly dismissive of the coronavirus pandemic and waged rhetorical war on scientists and health experts, and if he and the GOP-controlled Senate had invested their efforts over the last couple months in another economic stimulus for struggling families rather than shamelessly and hypocritically ramming another staunchly conservative Trump nominee onto the Supreme Court, he very well might have been re-elected. Ultimately, as impossible as it may be for a sociopathic narcissist and pathological liar like him to accept, he has no one to blame but himself. The results make that clear.

•••

While the Trump campaign seemed to do a good job of turning the hardline base out, after all the final results are certified Biden will likely have won the electoral vote count, 306-232 — the same margin Trump won by in 2016 despite losing the popular vote by 3 million.

Biden showed the ability to attract broad support in all corners of the country and won the popular vote by an even greater number than Hillary Clinton did. So while this can’t be really classified as a “landslide,” the direction offered by voters seems pretty obvious in regard to the presidential race.

Beyond that, the election results offered a little more of a mixed message. While Democrats maintained control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans picked up seats, including in districts that Democrats were able to wrestle away in the “blue wave” of 2018, and also strengthened their hold on many state legislatures across the country. And while the U.S. Senate races in Alaska and North Carolina had not been called as of this writing on Sunday afternoon, Republicans were all but certain to hold onto those seats and be on the cusp of retaining the Senate, with the two upcoming runoff elections in Georgia set to determine control and significantly impact the potential direction of the country for at least the next two years.

What does all this tell us, beside the apparent revelation that there were more Republicans and conservatives willing to reject Trump and Trumpism than many people thought? GOP Sen. Mitt Romney argued Sunday on “Meet the Press” that the results are evidence that this very much remains a center to center-right country where a majority of voters still favor traditionally conservative principles and policies, and that Biden may not have much success if he doesn’t recognize that.

I have a great deal of respect for Romney and believe him to also be a good man, and I would agree this remains a country that is hesitant to embrace large-scale change. But it also can’t be forgotten that Biden ran on solidly progressive ideas and still won the support of a majority of Americans. And it’s also difficult to square the notion that Biden has some sort of mandate to meet Republicans’ demands or broadly satisfy them with all of his administration’s prospective policies when the national GOP adopted no party platform this year beyond “whatever Trump says goes.” What has the Mitch McConnell-led Senate stood for other than immediately shooting down any legislation from the Democratic House and packing the federal bench with as many conservative judges as possible, all while standing idly by for Trump’s worst transgressions (Romney, for the most part, being a notable exception)?

There will be a good bit of election post-mortem to do in the days, weeks and months ahead, and Democrats are not exempt from that. While pushing for more access to quality and affordable health care for all Americans is a noble fight that they should not give up on, there is progress to be made in the battle of public opinion. And liberals and progressives also must realize that “Defund the Police” is a horrible political slogan; there are no two ways around it. If you need a 10,000-word essay to explain what it means, try something different — because that slogan has served as nothing but campaign fodder that aided Republicans’ efforts in those aforementioned down-ballot elections and has obscured and distracted from meaningful conversations about long overdue reforms that are needed both within our law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

Joe Biden understood this, and in retrospect he was clearly the best candidate to go up against Trump. Trump, for all his bluster about “Sleepy Joe,” seems to have instinctively understood this, so it’s little wonder why he got himself impeached over abusing his office by manufacturing a fake scandal to try to derail Biden’s candidacy.

And to that end, while you can argue the ways in which the Democrats may need to do some soul-searching, former Republicans like Tom Nichols, the people at the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and others who were driven from the party understand that it is the Republicans who are in need of a long look in the mirror and a total overhaul.

Even Romney conceded that Trump remains “the 900-pound gorilla” that carries the loudest voice in the party and will likely continue to do so for quite some time. The national GOP’s cowardly capitulation to Trump and his worst tendencies, led by the McConnell Senate, go beyond political philosophy and policy debates and can’t simply be forgotten. Keep this in mind as the runoff campaign in Georgia unfolds over the next two months. While Republicans will undoubtedly paint Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff as boogeymen who are part of a “radical socialist agenda,” incumbent senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are inextricably tied to Trump and Trumpism, having defended him at every turn and embraced his disgracing of the Office of the Presidency and debasing of many of our institutions. In what is now a firmly purple state, should voters reward them for that because of what voting for the Democrats would mean in terms of the balance of power?

It’s been said that divided government is a feature, not a bug, of our democracy, but that can only succeed if both sides of the aisle are demonstrably working in good faith. The evidence is there that this has not been the case for McConnell. Will he and others whose political fortunes may not be quite as tethered to Trump going forward look deep down and find some willingness to actually govern? I don’t know — probably not — but Biden’s pledge of cooperation must cut both ways. And the country and the rest of the world will still be watching to see how they handle Trump’s final two months in office.

For now, with the choice made at the top, our country looks to finally be back on the long and winding road to decency and basic sanity. But our work is far from done.

Scott Thompson is editor of The Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at sthompson@barrownewsjournal.com.

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