We were in the bank last Wednesday morning, getting a roll of quarters for the meter, when we greeted the pleasant man behind the counter. His morning was going well, he said.
“No tears about the election,” we observed.
“I’m just trying to live my life and be happy,” he said.
Another teller, overhearing all of this, shot us a sharp glance above her mask – and here was our divided country, all in that quiet bank morning.
None of us knew who would be president then. All we really did know was that very early last Wednesday morning, with some big states left to call and the composition of the U.S. Senate in the balance, Trump told his supporters, and the world, “Frankly, we did win.”
We are past the point of fearing the president is the locus of disinformation. By now, he was behaving predictably.
We all know he has no wand, magic or otherwise.
The tell was his need to append “Frankly.” When people do that, we have a cynic who lounges within us and is stirred to ask, “And what would be the unfrank version?”
Biden is the president-elect as we write and that seems unlikely to change between now and Jan. 20, 2021, when he would be sworn in. This comes after protracted vote-counting because the outcome in some states was so close. There was no landslide. Trump seems to have lost but Trumpism has not been rebuked.
So what has been revealed?
There is a growing consensus that there was an epic failure of polling, again, after Biden was shown with commanding leads in the run-up to Tuesday. The pollsters in turn will blame the voters, and rightly so.
Despite the commotion Trump instigated and inspired for the last four years, a lot of people in this country seemed to have quietly supported him when it came time to tick a box.
We thought there were roughly three big issues on Democrats’ and voters’ minds: addressing climate change, improving access to health care and at least calming civil and racial unrest. Informal exit polling turned up two more issues for many voters that should be obvious: the economy and the pandemic, which hit closer to home for many than the first three.
Americans thought of themselves and their wallets first before the great and more abstract dangers. Call them selfish, call them human, but Biden and Trump partisans seem destined to share this country for at least another four years just as the imperturbable teller must work with she of the cutting glance.
That this is so comes as a disappointment to many – but take heart: We are not called to do much beyond imagining a modus vivendi when not everything goes to our liking on just one day.
There is a good chance the Senate will stay red or be split, and that we will have a divided Congress. That will make it hard for any president to do big things in a fell swoop, on climate or health care. No Jack will come out of a box. We will have to chip away, patiently and with hope.
We are heading, after all the hurly-burly, to something like status quo ante – not the saddest news.
No matter how engaged some of us become with the Big Show of presidential races, the way many do with professional sports, including wrestling, there also are still many Americans who can be induced to vote but who just want to live their lives quietly pursuing happiness.