Shortly after Joe Biden was elevated Saturday from Democratic nominee to president-elect, my neighbor adorned his fence with multiple American flags. At first I wasn’t sure what statement he was making, then realized it was probably a small nod to reclaiming his country after four years of despair.
That pent-up need for renewal and release also sparked America’s block party, a spontaneous exaltation evocative of those when a dictator is deposed. Every chant, blaring horn, and line dance in celebrations that lasted into the next day was the joyful noise of millions exhaling in relief and elation. It came with a sense that cruelty and heartache were finally ending. With President Trump defeated, this nation could slowly inch closer to normalcy again.
Except “normal” in America was horrible for too many people.
“Normal” was widespread hunger and homelessness. “Normal” was the world’s highest prison population and incarceration rate. “Normal” was police brutality, racial injustice, inadequate housing and schools, lack of access to health care, and violence against women.
“Normal” was the centuries-old white resentment Trump exploited as a candidate and emboldened as president. After four regressive years, we should never want to return to what was once considered normal.
First, we have to protect democracy. Last week, it was on the ballot. Now it feels like it’s on life support, and Trump and his fellow Republicans are trying to pull the plug.
The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime has yielded the most unnerving lame-duck presidency in modern American history. No one should be surprised. Months ago, when Trump was asked “whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power,” he said, "We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
In its mangled way, it was an answer befitting a terrorist: “Give me what I want, and no one will get hurt.” For the next two anxious months, what continues is a presidency unbowed by the Constitution, history, or simple human decency. Yet some are still downplaying the potential dangers as Trump being Trump.
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” a senior Republican official told The Washington Post. “He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on January 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”
“Humoring” Trump is undermining the election’s result. It’s preventing the Biden-Harris transition team from gaining necessary government funding and access to government agencies. Coddling the president is putting the nation at risk of even more devastation from the raging coronavirus pandemic that has already claimed nearly 240,000 American lives and has hospitals nationwide reaching a breaking point.
The transition team is even weighing legal options to get this crucial process on track. One can only imagine what bad actors, both foreign and domestic, are gleaning from this unmatched moment of instability after a presidential election.
Voting Trump out of office is only the first step. Undoing the ingrained white supremacist systems that enabled his presidency is no less important than reversing his malicious policies — such as travel bans against either majority-Muslim or African nations, and his abrupt, foolish withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
One way or another, Trump will leave the White House on Jan. 20. After four years where each blow was lower and harder than the one before, we need a nation that sees gender and racial inclusion as indispensable instead of threatening, values equality as much as unity, and honors restorative justice as much as reconciliation.
This is why Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won, whether Trump and Republicans accept it or not. America needs better than the old normal. It deserves a grand vision for a more socially just nation. We should never again settle for an exclusionary normalcy that breeds complacency or demagogues.
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.