Our Opinion: The end of an election
It's finally over.
Turning out at the highest rates in more than a century, American voters took to the polls and delivered a verdict on American leadership in 2020: They don't much care for it.
President Donald Trump lost re-election, as both the polls and fundamentals of the race predicted. Trump's flailing, ineffectual response to the coronavirus pandemic may have cost him dearly, as likely did his insensitivity toward the protests for racial justice that erupted after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May.
Republicans still look likely to hold onto at least 50 seats in the U.S. Senate, and possibly an outright majority, depending on the results of two runoff elections in Georgia now scheduled for January. But that majority was reduced as voters in blue-shifting Arizona and Colorado decided they had enough of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's agenda in their states.
Democrats appear to have clung to a majority in the House, but their hopes of expanding it were dashed as voters in swing districts from California to Florida swung against Speaker Nancy Pelosi's caucus. A number of freshman Democrats were unseated, surprising and dismaying party officials who expected to be playing offense again this year, not counting their losses.
So, our leaders should take some time to reflect.
The American people have put forth a newly elected government that will be at least somewhat divided, with a Democratic White House, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees, a narrow Democratic majority in the House, and either a narrow Republican majority in the Senate or a 50-50 tie in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, and moderates like Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania; Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, will wield outsize influence.
For Oregon, it's hard to say just what this means.
A battleground state as recently as 2000, Oregon is now regarded as safe Democratic territory, with Democrats becoming increasingly dominant in the tri-county region even as Republicans are ascendant in rural areas, including Columbia County and much of the coast.
After years of the Trump administration paying little heed to Oregon — save for shutting down coronavirus relief money for TriMet earlier this year to punish Portland for months of civil unrest — it seems possible that the incoming Biden administration will rekindle ties. Certainly, President-elect Joe Biden espouses views on climate change that are more in line with the scientific consensus; while Trump did eventually sign off on emergency funding for Oregon amid the devastating September wildfires, his refusal to acknowledge that human activity is driving climate change and contributing to increasingly dangerous wildfire seasons has long troubled scientists and government officials on the West Coast.
But a Congress balanced on the razor's edge and a conservative Supreme Court majority bolstered by the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett just days before Election Day mean that Biden's ability to govern is uncertain right now. Predictions of a sweeping victory for Democrats this month didn't pan out. Unless Democrats can sweep the Georgia runoffs, it appears certain that Biden will need to work with McConnell; even if Democrats can win 50 seats, they will have their work cut out for them keeping their caucus unified. And in the House, Pelosi faces the prospect of trying to hold together feuding progressives, who want to see something more akin to a Bernie Sanders presidency than a rerun of the Barack Obama presidency, and moderates, frustrated to have lost colleagues and survived close calls as Republicans retook lost ground in battleground districts.
But all of this is a story for another time. The new Congress won't be sworn in until early January; the president-elect won't be sworn in until a couple of weeks after that. Trump is still president for about nine more weeks.
Beyond the palace intrigue and smoke-filled rooms in Washington, D.C., it's up to us to start coming together and begin healing from an election season that was nasty and volatile even by our country's pugilistic standards.
Whether or not you agree that "democracy was on the ballot," as many of Biden's supporters contended, we should be able to agree that this time, democracy worked: The winner of the popular vote is also the winner of the electoral vote, something that is apparent now and should be officially certified next month. Both parties took their lumps in hard-fought House and Senate races, with Republicans having a better night than they'd feared but neither side winning a decisive mandate. No one is completely happy with the results, and no one is left despondent, either.
Thus far, Trump has refused to concede, and he and some of his closest allies have continued to falsely claim that he won the election. This is typical of Trump, who also cried fraud when he lost the Iowa caucuses in 2016 and claimed he only lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton that November because of millions of "illegal" votes, a fantasy not even a panel of partisans he hand-selected to look into voter fraud was able to substantiate.
Trump can, should and will have his day in court, if that's what he wants. But the results of this legitimate election will be upheld, with Biden likely coming away with 306 electoral votes once all is said and done — the same number Trump won at the ballot box four years ago. Voter fraud is far, far less common than many partisans would like to believe; to the chagrin of many Democrats, it wasn't to blame for Trump's victory in 2016, and it's not to blame for Biden's victory in 2020.
As for the rest of us, whether you acknowledge Biden as our next president right now or you prefer to wait for the results to be officially certified, we can all take a big step out of the morass of 2020 and toward the uncertain but hopeful future of 2021 by turning down the temperature and turning toward one another.
There are still big differences that divide us. Politics are about more than the color of a hat, after all. But for those of us who put our faith once again in our system of government and voted our conscience, we were part of a process that represented the views of more Americans than have ever before voted in an election, and a greater share of the population than any in generations. Amid COVID-19 and wildfires and a general disillusionment with the status quo that is reflected in these election results, we should be proud of that — and we should acknowledge that we are all joined together in not knowing for certain what the results mean for the next two to four years, not being completely satisfied with the outcome, and not wanting to spend the rest of this year fighting over it.
Let's start by reaching out. Let's start by talking to each other. Let's start by seeing one another as human beings and fellow Americans, not as wingnuts or crackpots or rednecks or snobs or freeloaders or scrooges.
We may not agree; we may not be able to agree. But we can do our part to understand one another, and we might be surprised where that leads.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.