As Joe Biden was confirmed to be the winner of the 2020 presidential election (yes, he really was) last weekend, he repeatedly struck a conciliatory note in his public remarks, stressing that he wanted to be the president of all Americans, that we should think in terms of the "United States" rather than red states and blue states, and that we should not treat political opponents as the enemy.
No matter how you feel about Biden, it’s a message that America certainly needs after years of rancorous partisan hostilities that long predated the election of Donald Trump in 2016. But right now, the chances of healing and cross-partisan outreach are pretty low.
Most Republicans seem to be lining up behind Trump’s outrageous, norm-defying claims that he won the election ("by a lot") and is being cheated out of his legitimate victory by rampant fraud and collusion from the media — even Fox News. Some, including such prominent figures as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are actively supporting Trump’s apparent quest to reverse the election results through legal challenges in several states. Others remain silent. Meanwhile, polls show anywhere from half to three-quarters of Republican voters regard Biden’s win as illegitimate or at least seriously compromised.
Some irregularities — intentional or not — exist in every election. (One district in Michigan flipped from blue to red after a software glitch was corrected.) But there is simply no evidence of the massive malfeasance Trump is charging, and the specific allegations are either dubious or fairly insubstantial. So far, all the challenges the Trump camp has brought before a judge have been dismissed.
Even conservative commentators such as Eric Erickson acknowledge that Trump’s quest for a victory through lawsuits and recounts has no chance. But that doesn’t mean it’s just a harmless ego-salving diversion, as some Republican officials seem to think. Trump is blocking an orderly transition. He is sowing chaos and public anxiety — and even stoking fears of a coup. (In theory, the lawsuits could drag long enough to prevent states from certifying election results before Dec. 14; then, the disputed election would go to the House, where procedural rules could well give the win to Trump.)
This is deeply destructive. And it’s not comparable, as some conservatives glibly suggest, to Hillary Clinton making stray remarks — three years after the 2016 election — about Trump’s victory being illegitimate due to Russian meddling.
So far, it seems that most Republicans are determined to treat Biden as the enemy from the outset.
Some Democrats aren’t helping, either. In recent days, progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) have been on the warpath against centrist Democrats who have warned about the unhelpfulness of such slogans as "defund the police." A memo circulated by several progressive Democratic groups accuses the centrists of falling for the Republicans’ "divide-and-conquer" racist tactics. Yet there is evidence that this summer’s urban unrest and the perception of the Democrats as being anti-police hurt the Democratic Party at the polls.
The progressives want the Democratic Party to be the party of "Black [and] Brown" activists, young people, and "social movements." Such an approach leaves out millions of middle-class and working-class, urban and suburban men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who embrace decency but not radicalism.
Most of the people who backed Biden and Kamala Harris were backing centrism. Even in California, where the Biden/Harris ticket overwhelmingly won, voters also rejected some progressive measures such as a repeal of the ban of racial preferences.
The Republic will (almost certainly) survive Trump’s sabotage. But don’t expect a less toxic political climate.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.