Presidencies are reactionary, they build off one another. The demoralizing Johnson and Nixon years gave way to the well-intentioned yet ineffective Carter administration. Clinton’s long journey to the White House was predicated on the wilderness the Democratic Party found itself in during the domineering conservatism of the Reagan years. How much of Obama’s tenure in the White House existed as a response to the Bush era’s wars and social decline?
Yet one struggles to find a modern example of two presidencies that will rhyme more than the sun-setting Trump and forecoming Biden administrations. Trump sought power to bulldoze the legacy of the administration Biden served in as Vice President, while Biden ran on the explicit promise of taking the moral arc of America away from the hands of Trump. Both men will likely serve only four year terms, both represent their parties on the precipice of fundamental change. The battles of the past four years and the four still to come will be fought in direct opposition; Trump’s pillaging of the Obama legacy set against Biden’s long, seemingly unclear road to restoring an upstanding America that may have never even existed.
There is darkness on the horizon. Barring an unlikely sweep of January’s Georgia Senate runoffs, Democrats will likely face a Republican majority in the Senate for at least half of Biden’s term. This will undoubtedly limit the options of a President whose lack of concrete policy vision has already been a point of criticism from the left. The margins in Congress—whatever they may end up being—likely foretell the end of necessary yet audacious reforms to the Courts, filibuster, and the American healthcare system. Biden’s rhetoric about bipartisanship, even after four years of Trump and eight years of unprecedented Republican obstructionism against Obama, should give pause to any liberals expecting a bold agenda to unfold without relentless intervention from the left.
And yet...Donald Trump will no longer be President. After four years of horror, four years of incompetence and embarrassment and devastation and failure, there is something undeniably cathartic about Trump losing. The realization that the President’s legal strategy hinges on the mananical ravings of a shriveled-up Rudy Guliani is another relief; the final days of the Trump administration will be pathetic and undoubtedly upsetting, yet they are unlikely to produce a 2000-style election theft. Across the country, people celebrated the downfall of the incumbent, and they were right to do so. Much work is still to be done—brunches cannot resume—but it’s still important to acknowledge that Trump ate shit and it feels very good.
You cannot bottle up the bigotry and authoritarianism that the Trump era surfaced in the American psyche. Democrats turned out in record numbers on Election Day to express their repulsion at Trump...but so did a record number of Republicans. Despite the Lincoln Project’s best efforts, Trump somehow gained with Republicans. Even worse, the President saw his numbers with a number of minority groups improve, dampening longstanding narratives around the dead-end-ism of Trump-style politics. Trumpism is not gone, and whether its avatar moving forward is Trump himself or (more concerningly) a more effective and skilled political technican, it will continue to define the conservative project for years to come.
After a miserable cycle, this election is over. The balance of power is shifting. Democrats will regain control of a fractured, declining country beset by division, standing against an insurgent right that preys upon the darkest instincts of nationalism and bigotry. Their conviction and their bravery will be constantly questioned—as it should be. But they will, at least in the narrow confines of a presidency overseen by a septuagenarian moderate, be in power.
This is a victory. But it can never be the end.