For liberal America, the projection that Joe Biden would win the presidential election prompted euphoric relief. After four years of shame for their nation, the president-elect would, in his own words, “restore the soul of America”. As if to accentuate their irrationality, raucous crowds gathered mid-pandemic and passed around champagne, carefully removing masks to place their mouths on shared bottles.
Election results determine who governs us. They do not tell us who we are. The US elected George W Bush in 2000 but could just as easily have elected Al Gore. After making Barack Obama a two-term president, a similar electorate chose Donald Trump, though with a few tweaks in a few states Hillary Clinton’s first term might have been concluding.
Understanding the US as an Obama or Trump or Biden nation allows everyone to feel proud when their side is in power and appalled when it is not. People imagine that those with whom they disagree are a solvable problem, just one blue or red “wave” away from disappearing for good. Victory becomes a “mandate” to impose an agenda on the roughly half of the country that does not support it, while a loss necessitates a “resistance” to fend off that same fate.