After the craziest presidential election since, well, 2016, we can finally say what’s most important: Joe BidenJoe BidenMary Trump celebrates Biden-Harris victory: ‘To America. Thanks, guys’ Biden gives shoutout to Black Americans in victory speech: ‘You always have my back, and I’ll have yours’ Biden vows to heal divided nation MORE did his job. He has put our democracy back on track.
The former vice president turned in a steady, cool-handed performance that defied Twitter-wisdom about Democrats’ supposed leftward lurch. Instead, Biden built a broad center-left coalition that has won back the three Midwest states that put Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMary Trump celebrates Biden-Harris victory: ‘To America. Thanks, guys’ Biden gives shoutout to Black Americans in victory speech: ‘You always have my back, and I’ll have yours’ Biden vows to heal divided nation MORE over the top in 2016, while also probably turning Arizona and Georgia blue.
The election also confirms that, as closely divided as our country is, Democrats are the majority party. Biden won 50.5 percent of the popular vote, besting Trump by more than four million votes, and counting.
But blue America’s joy is tempered by two realities. First, Democrats were overconfident and, despite massive spending advantages, did not generate the expected blue wave or take control of the Senate. They lost seats in the House of Representatives and failed to flip many state legislatures, leaving Republicans the whip hand in redistricting after the 2020 Census.
Second, Trump did better than expected, boosting his popular vote total from 46 percent to 48 percent and making notable inroads among Blacks, Latinos and Asians. Energized by fear and loathing of a “Democrat Party” dominated by elites and socialists who “hate America,” his voters turned out in droves and again made monkeys of political pollsters.
Normally, huge turnout in national elections is something to celebrate. But the fact that nearly 48 percent (over 70 million) of our fellow citizens voted to entrust our highest office to a dishonest and malicious demagogue for another four years should give us pause. Trump was repudiated, but not Trumpism.
Where does that leave us? Not since the run-up to the Civil War has our country been so bitterly divided. The red tribe speaks to what America has been; the blue tribe to what America is becoming. The former sees the nation’s demographic and economic transformation as a threat to its way of life.
Biden will restore honor and decency to the White House. The big question is whether President-elect Biden will quell our tribal passions enough to make our government work again.
It’s easy to be pessimistic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer call to congratulate Biden Chris Wallace after Fox calls race for Biden: This is going to be ‘increasingly untenable’ for Trump Biden’s defeat of Trump is the most important win since FDR MORE (R-Ky.) is a master of obstruction and will use the GOP Senate to check the new president’s policy ambitions.
But Biden already has demonstrated the political dexterity to reach out to suburban and working-class whites without compromising his beliefs. That’s chiefly because he obviously isn’t the leftwing boogie man of Trump’s imagination.
He outperformed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRegardless of party, the next Congress must prioritize disability issues Is Michigan’s collapse in union membership a sign of things to come? Social media responds to Harris making history: ‘I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing’ MORE across the pragmatic center of the electorate. According to exit polling, Biden won independents by 14 points (Trump won them last time) and moderates by a thumping 64 percent. He also did better than Clinton with working class voters, winning 57 percent of people making less than $100,000 a year (vs. 49 percent for Clinton) and 35 percent of white voters without a college degree (vs. 29 percent for Clinton).
How can Biden fulfill his promise to govern for “everyone who voted for me, as well as against me?” At the outset, he should avoid any appearance of political payback and defer action on issues most likely to bring tribal conflict back to a boil. The Biden administration’s first 100 days, for example, shouldn’t be consumed with symbolic battles over expanding the Supreme Court or statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Instead, Biden should put his ideas for tackling geographic inequality front and center. These include his bold plan for modernizing the nation’s economic infrastructure and spurring clean energy manufacturing jobs. For example, Biden could strike a patriotic chord by setting a national goal of making America the world’s top clean car maker by the end of his term. China is currently leading in the electric vehicle race, and a crash program to catch up and surpass our chief rival could capture public imagination and create jobs in old industrial centers such as Youngstown and Detroit.
Exit polls show that two-thirds of U.S. voters – including 29 percent of Trump voters – believe that climate change is a “serious problem.” That’s something to build on, and Biden should make a priority of enlarging that beachhead and depolarizing energy and climate politics.
As promised, he should return the United States to the Paris climate accords on day one in office (and for that matter reverse all of Trump’s most egregious executive orders). But Biden seems to understand – unlike Green New Deal purists – that our country won’t make faster progress toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions until we can build a wider public consensus around that goal.
That won’t happen as long as the green left insists on presenting Americans with a false choice between abolishing fossil fuels now – and destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. energy industry – or climate catastrophe.
Biden understands that the country needs a clean energy transition that proceeds at a pace our people and economy can absorb, buttressed by big investments in batteries, energy storage, carbon capture and other carbon-reducing technologies. Criticized for refusing to endorse Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: ‘Thank God democracy won out’ On The Trail: Biden’s bet pays off How Biden got across the finish line MORE’s (I-Vt.) call for a fracking ban, Biden likely would have lost Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest gas producers, had he done so.
There are many other ways Biden can advance his progressive agenda while also defusing the anger and paranoia of some Trump voters. For example, he can encourage local authorities to demilitarize their police forces while also taking a tougher line against the festering violence and looting that has bedeviled Portland and other cities. On education, he should swivel from elitist calls for “free college” to building a more a robust system of work-based learning and credentials for the majority of young Americans who aren’t college-bound.
The good news is that all this requires is that Joe Biden govern as he ran – as a big-hearted and pragmatic liberal with a natural affinity with working class voters – not as a blue tribe warrior.
Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).
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