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Opinion: It feels like the nation may be at a pivot point, at least on COVID and the presidency

Respiratory care practitioner Raul Aguilar receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

It does, really, finally feel like we might have reached a turning point. Over the past 24 hours, the much-maligned electoral college did its work — in secret and under guard in some places — and elected Joe Biden as president to succeed Donald Trump, as the first COVID-19 vaccinations were injected into people’s arms.

Capping off the sequence of events, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deigned to acknowledge the obvious on Tuesday morning and recognized Biden as the president-elect.

Of course, there is still a lot of dark terrain to traverse. Trump’s fringiest supporters cling to the conspiracy theories that he keeps feeding them about dark forces that conspired to cheat him out of the opportunity to wreak four more years of havoc. Who knows how long that will take to settle out. If it settles out.

A new app by RealNetworks can tell when you’re not wearing a mask or wearing it wrong. It can also gather data to help policymakers refine their coronavirus policies.

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And it will be months before meaningful numbers of Americans receive vaccinations while the infection and hospitalization statistics surge and the dangerously foolhardy among us roam unmasked like a cross between the Grim Reaper and Johnny Appleseed.

So reaching a turning point isn’t the same thing as actually making the turn. But I’m hopeful that we have more dismal days behind us than in front of us.

Still …

Biden is assembling a new administration that looks a lot like the one he was part of four years ago, which means a probable reset to President Obama’s approach to governing. That isn’t going to sit well with the progressive wing of the party. The necessary rallying of Democrats behind Biden that came after the primaries, and that survived through the election, may not last too deeply into the new year.

The likeliest fights will be over environmental justice, immigration enforcement and policies, the scope of criminal justice reform, and foreign entanglements (Biden’s interventionist history and reliance on establishment advisors doesn’t sit well with progressives).

At the same time, the Senate remains under McConnell’s thumb (unless and until Georgia somehow elects two Democratic senators in January to replace the two Republican incumbents), and a disturbingly high number of Republicans in the House have made a show of putting their allegiance to Trump ahead of allegiance to the country.

Which means the gridlock that has come to define Washington isn’t likely to change and will continue to feed the public perception that power figures in D.C. are more interested in posturing around the ax-grinding machine than actually solving problems (case in point: immigration reform).

And Trump will still be Trump, lobbing tweets from Mar-A-Lago and hand-feeding red meat to the conspiracy lovers as he flirts with a 2024 run to reclaim the White House. And that, in turn, could make it impossible for the Republican Party to move forward.

In fact, after the debacle of the last four years, there aren’t many Republican political figures who can lay claim to any level of integrity as they actively embraced or at a minimum tacitly accepted the lies of the Trump administration, and such inhumane acts as tearing migrant children from their parents.

But at this moment, there is reason for some optimism, a sense that is more palpable than even just a week ago. There is no plausible path for Trump to undo the election results (if there ever had been one), lines are forming to receive vaccinations, and it does, indeed, feel as though we’ve reached a turning point.

And while the new road may be just as bumpy as the current one, at least the new driver is more likely to try to navigate past the potholes and rough patches instead of steering us right at them.


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