In rejecting Donald Trump and electing Joe Biden, millions of people around the country have affirmed a version of America that can still serve as a model for democracy around the world. A majority of — though, notably not all — Americans have just upheld standards once taken for granted: that a US president must have both integrity and the capacity to lead in crisis — and that ours is a nation that strives to be compassionate, inclusive, grounded in reality, and in pursuit of the ideals of freedom and justice.
2020 was already a historic election year amid the worst pandemic in more than a century and a reckoning that has galvanized more Americans to agitate for racial justice than ever before. An unprecedented reliance on mail-in and early voting, combined with attempts at voter suppression from the GOP, left many wondering whether a credible electoral process could take place. The outcome is no less historic than the buildup: Biden has sought the presidency twice before and is now, at 77, the oldest US president-elect ever. (He’ll be 78 when he takes the oath of office.) Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman to serve as the country’s vice president in our 244-year history, will also be the highest-ever ranking Black woman and Asian-American woman in political office in the United States.
It is also rare in our nation’s history to defeat a sitting president without a third-party candidate splitting the vote. Biden has done so with more votes than any presidential candidate in US history, with an ample margin of the popular vote as well as key victories in swing states won by his opponent in 2016.
For many Americans, as profound as these firsts is the end of the most destructive presidency in our history. No, Trump did not drop a nuclear bomb on another nation or instigate an actual civil war. But he abused the power of the Oval Office with his blatant and unapologetic corruption, whether extorting foreign nations for personal favors or enriching himself and his family with White House business. He trampled on democratic norms, using the Justice Department to punish his enemies and reward his friends. He lifted protections that prevent the poisoning of our air and water while eviscerating policies to combat the climate crisis. He dog-whistled to white supremacists and fanned the flames of right-wing extremist violence. He catastrophically mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 234,000 Americans, and he has been callous about its toll on American families and communities. He devastated the economy, which has impoverished 8 million Americans since May and left 1 in 4 Americans reporting that they or a member of their family has lost a job during the pandemic. He desecrated the United States as a model for freedom of the press and the rule of law. He damaged citizens’ faith in government and institutions and closed America’s borders to refugees and immigrants, and therefore neutered America’s compassion for suffering and human rights abuses around the world.
Ending this nightmare is only the beginning, however. It’s easier to sow seeds of destruction than it is to solve problems.
Some of the damage will be lasting. The Trump presidency transformed the federal judiciary into an institution that threatens voting rights. And it welcomed ongoing catastrophe: allowing the United States to become the epicenter of a deadly pandemic and postponing a reckoning with a climate crisis that gets more costly to address with each passing year and each rash of wildfires, storms, and droughts. It also eroded the trust of allies and America’s standing in the world.
And make no mistake: even with Trump voted out of the White House, Trumpism in America will not die. The president didn’t create racism in America, but he called white supremacists out of the shadows and they won’t likely crawl back into them easily. His worst enablers in the Senate may still be in charge of the upper chamber come January.
But Trump’s election in 2016 also shocked many people out of complacency about politics — from suburban women taking to the streets, to the people who ran for office at the local and state level for the first time to assert a distinct non-Trumpian model for public service. That shouldn’t end with the election of Biden and Harris.
State legislatures do the critical work of drawing up congressional districts that determine whether the majority is well represented. Local officials run elections and take on utilities to make sure cleaner energy sources power our homes and don’t pollute our environment. State governments can secure women’s right to choose and take on police unions that resist reforms that would make officers of the law more accountable to the communities they serve. Leadership is needed at all levels of government to take on the inequality underpinning the alienation of working-class people and to condemn fear and hatred of immigrants and people of color.
Despite these formidable challenges and the time and lives lost, much of what Trump represents has now been decisively repudiated — despite the fact that many people wanted to give him another term and despite the president’s legal challenges to the voters’ verdict.
The nation must now start anew its quest to become a better version of itself. The fight continues for an America that protects the vulnerable, celebrates freedom of expression, acts on scientific evidence, corrects racial injustice, takes care of the health of its people, nurtures the next generation, quells violence, renews itself through immigration and invention, and stands for equality and human rights around the world. Voters have spoken up to say that come January, there should be an ally instead of an enemy of these aspirations in the White House. The task will not just be Joe Biden’s, however. It is all of ours.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.