The dust hasn’t settled yet in what may (or may not) be the most contentious presidential election ever. Multiple legal actions are under way, and the Supreme Court could become involved as it did in 2000.
Eventually, however, Joe Biden likely will take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2021. Will the country unite behind a new chief executive? Don’t count on it.
Vote tallies show Biden accumulated the largest national popular vote in history. President Donald Trump’s total, by the way, was second highest. That is indicative of the largest voter turnout ever, which should be a good thing depending on one’s political point of view.
The question then becomes whether the former vice president accumulated the total out of personal popularity. I tend to think not. This year’s presidential election instead was a referendum on Trump as the most polarized electorate in history turned out in record numbers with many rejecting Trump’s often abrasive style and mixture of facts, opinions and wishful thinking.
The electoral margin, though, was razor thin, leading the ever-competitive Trump to play the fraud card. Indeed, the circumstances of the 2020 election during a raging pandemic encouraged the largest early voting turnout ever. Safeguards aside, there is more opportunity for shenanigans involving mail-in voting, in which machine-counting is necessarily limited with millions of ballots handled by the Postal Service.
Thus the rumor mill ran full tilt as leads jockeyed back and forth during the counting process. Tales proliferated of state totals exceeding the number of registered voters, though some of it was exaggerated and in many states same-day registration is legal.
The likelihood is that recounts are unlikely to uncover enough irregularities to reverse the outcome. Many party workers privately admit some underhanded tactics occur on both sides, but whether tens of thousands of votes are affected is improbable. Trump’s charges remain largely unsubstantiated. Interestingly, Democrats were floating similar fears before Election Day.
Democratic calls for a Trump concession were met with Republican resistance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explaining: “Let’s have no lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.”
Close elections have long been fraught with controversy. Rutherford B. Hayes’ 1876 victory over Samuel J. Tilden involved disputed electors and ultimately was decided in Congress. John Kennedy’s 1960 win over Richard Nixon brought GOP allegations of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley “voting the graveyards” in the decisive Illinois race. And Al Gore pushed the 2000 Florida tally all the way to the Supreme Court before George W. Bush was declared the winner.
The American political scene, always contentious, has steadily become increasingly polarized over the past few years. And frankly, the social media has abetted that polarization. The likelihood of uniting behind a president for the good of the country these days simply isn’t going to happen.