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For Biden, a time to lead

Now President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala

Now President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris watch fireworks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention in August. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

Throughout his long campaign for president, Joe Biden described the 2020 election as a battle for the soul of the nation. Now he has been declared the winner, and the nation will be much the better for it.

Biden's calls for unity and inclusion and his calm demeanor during his fierce fight against President Donald Trump were embraced by voters emotionally exhausted by the president's divisiveness, angry rhetoric, and erratic behavior. Biden's popular vote margin, more than 4 million and counting, is proof his appeal for a return to normalcy resonated with Americans reeling after four years of unnecessary tumult, anxiety and chaos, and suffering profoundly from his incompetent handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

This election will be remembered as one of the most consequential in our nation's history, given the problems we have and the course we must set to avoid being engulfed by them. It also made history: Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will be the first woman, first Black woman and first Asian American to serve as president or vice president — 100 years after women gained the right to vote. Those barriers should have been broken long ago. And Biden and Harris won more votes than any other ticket in America's 240 years.

Trump promised to continue his fight against the results, saying in a statement that his campaign "will start prosecuting our case in court" on Monday. That is his right and obligation if he has actual evidence of his claims of fraud. None has been presented thus far, certainly nothing that would change the results in any meaningful way. And while recounts in various states will take place, they rarely overturn elections.

Trump needs to prepare to accept defeat as graciously and publicly as he can and concede, for the sake of the nation, so planning can begin for a peaceful transition. This essential part of American tradition is especially important given some of the baseless conspiracy theories swirling on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media that could lead to unrest and even violence. This election was not stolen.

A smooth transition also is critical with the nation amid a raging pandemic. The United States is now recording more than 100,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 1,000 deaths per day, evidence of Trump's refusal and inability to manage the virus. It is a difficult and enormous challenge, one that overwhelmed the White House.

In the weeks ahead, the White House must partner with Biden's team on the transition. Biden needs access to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA, and must be briefed regularly on vaccine progress so he can put his plan into action immediately upon his inauguration.

Biden will announce Monday his virus task force, the beginning of his effort to quell this scourge and it must remain his top focus. The battered economy won't rebound fully until COVID-19 is under control.

He's been right to emphasize science as guiding his response and he needs to be courageous in doing what's needed, even if it's not welcomed in many quarters. His impending inauguration should inspire Congress finally to cooperate to get a major COVID-19 stimulus package passed before then. The people, businesses and local governments of America need the help now.

Beyond that lies a more fraught challenge with greater long-term implications. We are a deeply fractured nation. Biden has pledged to heal the divide, but he can't do it alone. Americans must join him by being willing to lay down their rhetorical arms. While the announcement of Biden's victory set off displays of euphoria and celebration across the country, we know many of Trump's supporters will have a difficult time accepting his loss. Understanding the reasons for their support of his agenda will be an essential part of healing.

Biden got it right this weekend when he decried the "total, unrelenting, unending warfare" that has characterized our politics. "The purpose of our politics, the work of the nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict but to solve problems," Biden said. "We may be opponents, but we are not enemies. We are Americans."

And they deserve congratulations, too. Amid a pandemic, in a political environment wracked by corrosive partisanship, amid a sea of changes to long-established voting practices, Americans turned out in record numbers — more than 145 million votes counted so far. Even with that explosion of interest, our idiosyncratic system, while not without its flaws, worked, thanks to countless election officials and volunteers.

The victory by Biden and Harris does not signal an immediate transformation. But voters have said clearly they are ready to move forward. They want to embrace a more optimistic view of America and Americans, of our potential and our capacity to do great things, all of us, together.

There's a lot of work to do to make that vision reality, but now it can start.