Editorial: A victory for Biden — and for the American people

President-elect Joe Biden made a compelling case for change.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

After an uncomfortably close election, Joe Biden appears certain to be the next president of the United States, a result that is above all a victory for the nation. Assuming the win stands after the recounts are over, it will return to private life — and, we can hope, obscurity — one of the worst presidents in American history.

Biden’s victory is also a personal triumph for the former vice president and longtime U.S. senator, who was regarded by many (Democrats among them) as past his prime and the product of a bygone era of bipartisan compromise. At 77, Biden has achieved the political prize that twice eluded him when he was younger, in large part because of his connection to the norms of yore.

President Trump had claimed victory again on Saturday morning, just before Pennsylvania’s results gave Biden an electoral college majority, and he is contesting the count in several states crucial to that majority (Biden leads in the popular vote count by more than 4 million.) The president has the right to pursue remedies in court. But to keep his office, he will need to overturn the outcome in more than one state — and he will need real evidence of fraud, something he hasn’t yet produced.


Biden’s campaign no doubt benefited from revulsion at the way Trump has degraded the presidency. Exit polls suggest that a significant minority of Biden voters saw their vote as primarily a vote against Trump. But disaffection with the incumbent isn’t the complete explanation for Biden’s victory. The former vice president demonstrated, in a campaign circumscribed by the COVID-19 pandemic, that he was a strong, self-confident and principled leader.

Biden effectively called out Trump’s character deficits and stood up to the president when Trump sought to portray him as senile, corrupt and the pawn of the extreme leftists in his party. He also credibly promised that he would get things done. That means addressing the coronavirus that Trump has tried to wish into insignificance as well as the racial, social and economic inequities the contagion has thrown into sharp relief.

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With Republicans poised to retain control of the Senate, Biden will have to make good on his promise to work with Republicans in Congress. But it would be a mistake to believe that he seeks compromise for compromise’s sake. Rather, he would seek dialogue with the opposition as the means to the end of accomplishing things for the American people, whether it is long-stalled immigration reform, a “Bidencare” expansion of the Affordable Care Act or a commitment by this country to address climate change in a way that will create clean-energy jobs.

Enormous challenges await the president-elect. Many of them stem from the damage Trump inflicted on the country in both foreign and domestic affairs, not the least being the distrust Trump sought to breed in the legitimacy of Biden’s win. Others will involve addressing problems denied or neglected by the incumbent, most notably global warming and income inequality.

Biden also will need to deal with differences among the disparate components of his winning coalition. Progressive Democrats are likely to find some of the new president’s policy proposals too timid, while more moderate Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans will insist that Biden’s mandate is to govern from the center. Fortunately, Biden’s ability to assemble a broad-based coalition to unseat Trump offers the hope that he will display a similar skill in uniting disparate interests behind common goals as president.


The new president will also need to redeem his promise that he will be the president not only of those who voted for him but of all Americans. Contrary to what some Democrats seem to believe, there are tens of millions of Trump voters who are not cultists, conspiracy theorists or racists. Many of Trump’s supporters saw him, now as in 2016, as a bulwark against changes, cultural as well as economic, that made them feel besieged and vulnerable. For that reason, they were willing to overlook his incompetence and character flaws. And many workers of all political persuasions are understandably anxious as forces of globalization and automation threaten to leave them even further behind.

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Biden will have to find a way to erase the doubts Trump tried to plant and reassure an anxious and divided America even as he repudiates the bigotry that his predecessor encouraged and exploited. His legendary empathy will be put to great use, but the ultimate test is whether he can enact policies that would restore the middle class and build America back — better, fairer and stronger.

For now Biden — and California, and the nation — can be forgiven for not focusing immediately on those herculean challenges. It is enough, today, to be thankful that the American people — coming out in droves, in a pandemic, to exercise their most important freedom — have righted a ship of state that was perilously off course.