The feeling for me is not euphoria; it is a deep, profound relief. My shoulders had been up around my ears; they’re dropping now. My muscles are melting. I am sinking into my chair and the tears are flowing. I can drop my guard.
I’m not American, I don’t live in the States, I shouldn’t be that invested. But no one can escape America. All over the world the news have run a background noise of anxiety for four years, only dialed up in the last week.
It’s been messy. The count was slow and we always knew it would be slow. That skewed our view of the results. Yet there were a lot of good headlines about this US election. Consider this:
- The US got 150 million people voting in the middle of a pandemic, when many other countries simply canceled their elections. About half the voters were able to express their choice safely from home, which is resulting in one of the highest turnouts in more than a century. So far it’s all happened without violence.
- Kamala Harris is about to be the first woman, the first Black woman, the first Asian American woman, a daughter of immigrants, to take up an executive seat in the White House. A historical moment whomever you support.
- The American media did pretty well on the results (but don’t get me started on forecasts). Local authorities and courts played their parts unperturbed. Even some Republicans, though not enough of them, have relocated their spine and distanced themselves from Trump’s wildest claims. American democracy is holding.
If you lean Democratic, add these feathers to your cap.
- Joe Biden has managed a rare feat in American politics – unseating a president. Incumbents are supposed to win.
- If the current trend holds, he’ll do this with 306 electoral votes, the same count as Trump in 2016. He’ll be flipping two historically Republican Southern states and restoring much of the “blue wall” in the Rust Belt.
- He’ll have won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by larger margins than Trump’s so-called triumph among the white working class in 2016.
- And he’ll do so while winning the popular vote by a margin of 4 million and counting.
Yet, an unease remains.
No one expected Donald Trump to rise to the moment, but his reaction shocked even those who thought they could no longer be shocked. There’s a lot of damage he can do in 72 days. The record turnout seems more a symptom of how deep divisions run than of a sudden democratic awakening. More than 70 million people came out on each side because the prospect of being governed by the other guy was unbearable. The Biden-Harris ticket did not sway a significant number of conservative voters to its side; it simply came out slightly on top of a massive get-out-the-vote effort by both parties.
American voters, it seems, are unswayable. In a recent episode of On The Media, political scientist Liliana Mason explained how, starting in the 1990s, American political parties became more aligned with identities than policies. The Republican party has now backed itself in a corner, representing an identity that can only shrink demographically. The only option left to keep winning elections is to further entrench those voters and motivate them to turnout, pushing whichever buttons work.
This reality resonates far beyond American borders, not just because the US remains a superpower, but because parties everywhere are taking notes. I see it in the UK, I see it in France. Maybe you see it where you are. (Tell us in comments.) Political strategists everywhere envy the victories those divisive tactics brought. They should remember what damage they wrought.
This week, I spoke to Americans abroad about living the Trump years outside their home country. They live in the UK and in Turkey and see the parallels all too well. We talked about what was broken, whether they felt the strength to go back and rebuild, and what they hoped would happen from January 20th.
This election is not going to heal America, Wade Davis warned us. Donald Trump was not an aberration; he was a culmination. The work is not done, but it has started.
We can worry about everything else now because we don’t need to worry about him.
A note on independence and neutrality
As a journalist I am deeply uncomfortable displaying partisan affinities. You’ll find me criticizing government policies, but I won’t be rooting for the opposition as a result. My job is to help make sense of reality. I do it with certain values and a perspective of which I make no secret, but I hope always with intellectual honesty. I apply my skepticism evenly to all parties.
Donald Trump has so wildly departed from the democratic norms a free press must guard that I have no qualms publicly wishing him out of a job and of a platform. The Republican party also has much to answer for. It is doing my job — observing reality — that got me to this conclusion. That has meant hoping, out loud, for a Biden win and that ends when he’s in the White House. I promise to always be independent, but on some things I could not be neutral.
News from the global citizenry
🇳🇮 🇬🇹 We may never know how strong Hurricane Eta was (it was bad), reports The Washington Post. This hyperactive hurricane season is only matched by 2005, the year of Katrina. Earth to people.
🇪🇺 Goodie, we’re gonna get to talk about Brexit again. No progress. No-deal cliff approaching fast. The episode with Luke McGee is still totally relevant. I’m going to say this a few times before June: If you know European children in the UK, make sure they have obtained (pre)settled status. We are doomed to have a generation of Dreamers in this country in a decade or so, because their parents won’t have known to apply for them. How big that generation is, is up to us in the next six months.
🇺🇸 Joe Biden is going to undo a lot of Trump’s policies. Here are his plans on immigration, gathered by Reuters.
🇦🇺 With summer on the way, Australia seems to have kicked covid-19 to the curb. May it last! Melbourne ended a marathon lockdown and Qantas celebrated with another weepy commercial about families reuniting. This didn’t go unnoticed by Aussies stranded abroad, who are still only allowed home in a trickle.
📚 Resist the call of Amazon. As a broke young journo, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris was my refuge. They were my first visit out of lockdown this spring. Now they’re calling for help. Please consider supporting them or any indie and less famous bookstore near you. I got the latest Nick Hornby from my neighborhood used bookshop before this latest lockdown. Silly reads are great for this moment, but not this one (get something else).
🇫🇷❤️🇺🇸 The American man who conquered French Twitter was found. We love you, man.
🇰🇷 Geoffrey Cain, on this week’s episode, is the author of “Samsung Rising: The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant That Set Out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech.” I strongly recommend it. If you think Apple is secretive and weird, you’ve seen nothing yet. Geoff is probably the best informed journalist there is about Samsung, and the book reads like a spy novel.
🇬🇧 Lauren Tormey, also on the podcast this week, has written about her painful experience of the British “hostile environment” immigration system and how it must change. It echoes the experiences of every immigrant I know here. Pair that with a listen to my conversation with immigration lawyer and author Colin Yeo.
🎙 The folks at journalism.co.uk have kindly invited me onto their podcast to talk about starting Borderline and the business lessons I’ve learned at LinkedIn and applied to entrepreneurship. Spoilers: Plan to work harder and earn less than you thought, focus like crazy, and always question why you’re doing what you’re doing. For more, look inside.
🙏 Huge thanks to all the listeners who joined me on Zoom throughout election night. You made the whole ordeal way more fun and less lonely. It was 5 am before I knew it. And you gave me a taste for live events so stay tuned…
📣 Remember, members: If you have an announcement, it can go in here too. Get in touch.
On my phone
Notice how we Europeans have become experts in the US electoral college, but probably can’t tell the European Council and the Council of the European Union apart? (I mean, come on!) Katy Lee and Dominic Kraemer have and to catch us up, they’ve started The Europeans, a weekly podcast hosted virtually between Paris and Amsterdam. I’m ashamed to realize how much I don’t know, but admitting it is the first step.
Good night and good luck
I carry inside my heart,
As in a chest too full to shut,
All the places where I have been,
All the ports at which I have called,
All the sights I’ve seen through windows and portholes
And from quarterdecks, dreaming
And all of this, which is so much,
is nothing next to what I want.
- Fernando Pessoa
Get more from Borderline
Never miss new articles, essays and podcast episodes. Sign up for the free newsletter. Opt for a paid subscription to unlock comments, get the podcast early and support independent journalism.