Joe Biden described the agonizing wait for the outcome of the presidential election thusly: “Democracy can sometimes be messy.”
Not as striking as Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted observation that Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.
Yet both descriptors fit the cliffhanger 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden, and the unprecedented indignation over the nation’s voting system displayed by President Trump as his stated certainty for reelection vanished into vote counting reality.
Trump’s conduct was not unexpected given his distressing comments preceding the election that if he didn’t win, the outcome was rigged against him. Biden fortuitously said he didn’t believe the polls that had him winning comfortably. His skepticism proved right.
The laborious process of manually checking millions upon millions of mailed ballots eventually lifted Biden over the top on Saturday with Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, giving him the magic 270 to become the 46th president on Jan. 20. Sen. Kamala Harris will become the first woman and person of African American and South Asian descent to hold the office of vice president.
Few partisans expected the president to erupt with cries of corruption so early in the ballot-counting process. He falsely boasted early Wednesday he had won the election. He later changed his mind to say he would prevail with legal challenges in states that narrowly flipped against him.
Trump expects to appeal his contention Biden stole the election to the Supreme Court. But it is problematic whether the court would even consider a case without hard evidence of corruption affecting the election outcome.
The last time the high court intervened in a post-presidential election -- Florida in 2000 -- the legal issue was not evidence of corruption but rather whether to stop a recount of the state’s certified vote. Only 537 votes separated Democratic Al Gore from Republican George W. Bush and the presidency. The high court voted 5-4 to stop the Florida recount. Bush became president.
Trump framed his case two days after Election Day and before vote counting had been completed: “If you count the legal votes, I win easily,” presumably in states where he lost by slender margins.
A self-serving definition of legal votes might support his conclusion. But legitimate votes are decided and counted by election officials, not the president.
Biden did not need the Republican contested mail-in votes that arrived three days after Election Day in Pennsylvania, ballots allowed by the State Supreme Court but sure to be contested in the U.S. Supreme Court had they determined the election winner. With that a possibility, state election officials separated them from mailed ballots arriving by Tuesday.
Regrettably, Trump’s wounded ego ginned up his diehards, including militia protesters. They appeared at state vote-counting locations in Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta and elsewhere. Some brandished rifles and handguns where open carry is allowed. Others held signs reading, “Stop the count” and “Stop the cheat.”
Social media struggled to keep up with the flood of disinformation, misinformation and lies, including Trump’s claim he had won. Facebook permanently suspended the account of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon for suggesting the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray. It also shut down the 350,000-member Facebook group “Stop the steal” because some members suggested violence.
The president did not urge his impassioned protesters to stand back and stand by. Rather he encouraged their anger with his accusations of corruption. He also sought their financial support online for his anticipated legal expenses to fight on in the courts.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham quickly heeded the call. He promised to donate a half-million dollars shortly after winning reelection in South Carolina, calling the vote counting in Philadelphia “crooked as a snake.” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas said he’s “angry. The American people are right to be angry.”
Both falsely claimed Republican representatives were not allowed to observe vote counting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. Both parties had authorized observers in the counting room, assured Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar. In addition, she told CNN, the counting process was livestreamed so anyone could watch it from anywhere.
“It’s very transparent,” said Bockvar.
Not to Trump’s hard-core. They believe anything the president and his loyalists say -- and don’t care a wit whether it is true or not. Zealots on the other side act much the same for their cause.
This stubbornness for our way or no way by extremists at both ends of the political spectrum are the fault line of an indivisible nation, with liberty and justice for all.
Biden and Harris can expect formidable defiance as they seek to produce on their campaign promise of bringing America together again. The measure of success rests on their will for bipartisanship.
Bill Ketter is senior vice president of news for CNHI, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.