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When the drug company Pfizer announced Monday that early data showed its coronavirus vaccine is more than 90% effective in protecting people from the disease, the hearts of millions of people around the world leapt – and stock markets soon followed.
On that day, America was still coming to grips with the results of the election – and it wasn’t fully clear whether the outcome would prove more than 50% effective in protecting democracy and unifying the nation.
By any measure, Joe Biden scored a clear victory over President Donald Trump. The former vice president, now President-elect, got 50.8% percent of the votes counted so far, 5 million-plus more than Trump. And with the red states of Arizona and Georgia now projected to flip into the Democrat’s column, Biden has 306 Electoral College votes – the same number Trump got in 2016.
Trump is challenging the results in the courts and refusing to concede, even as foreign leaders and a small but growing number of Republican officials are congratulating Biden on his win. “Trump is choosing to end his presidency as he started it, attacking the truth and undermining the nation’s institutions,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “In the end, Trump will have to move out of the White House, whether he likes it or not. But his shenanigans will leave the country wounded.”
Karl Rove, the strategist behind George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, argued in The Wall Street Journal that Trump is entitled to pursue his court battles to overturn the results in swing states, “but the president’s efforts are unlikely to move a single state from Mr. Biden’s column, and certainly they’re not enough to change the final outcome.”
In the New Yorker, Susan Glasser wrote of Trump’s “evidence-free fantasy” that the election was stolen from him. There were moments this week that “felt as though we were watching events unfold in Minsk or some other dictator stronghold where elections are not stolen the day votes are cast but in the weeks afterward, as the defeated President holes up in his palace, defying reality and increasingly urgent crowds in the streets,” Glasser noted.
While many Republican elected officials enabled Trump’s false claims with their silence, some, like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, actively helped spread doubts about the election’s legitimacy, wrote Nicole Hemmer. In her view, it’s a continuation of a decade of efforts by the GOP to suppress the vote and perpetuate minority rule. “All these efforts to undermine the electoral will of the people, from voter suppression to power-stripping to false accusations of fraud, are evidence that the pro-democracy alliance is smaller than many people think,” Hemmer observed.
Trump’s court challenges “are unlikely to pay off in the form of a second term for Trump,” wrote Richard L. Hasen in the Atlantic. “He would need the equivalent of three consecutive Hail Mary passes to stay in office.”
Shan Wu, a former prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, wrote, “To really overturn the results and try to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes, Trump’s legal team would have to come forward with evidence of massive voter fraud. So far, no substantial evidence has surfaced beyond the baseless claims made by Trump surrogates like Rudy Giuliani.”
Trump allies have suggested that the Electoral College vote for Biden is not a certainty, a notion that political scientist Robert Alexander, who has written a scholarly book on the college, rejected out of hand.
UK journalist Timothy Stanley pointed out that “the stakes were raised Wednesday with magnificent madness by Hollywood actor Jon Voight who released a video calling Trump’s legal effort ‘the greatest fight since the Civil War, the battle of righteousness vs Satan.’ To be clear, there is no evidence of vote rigging or that Satan is a registered Democrat … but some version of this narrative is taking hold on the right and the Republican leadership can’t do much about it. They are, as ever, reacting to events, not shaping them.” In effect, Stanley wrote, “they are a prisoner of Trump’s decision making … and have been for four wild years.”
Thinking of what might have been, Julian Zelizer wrote that Trump “could have started with a gracious concession speech, congratulating President-elect Biden on his impressive victory and urging his voters to throw their support behind the nation’s new commander in chief.” He could have invited Biden to the White House, as Obama did for Trump in 2016, authorized the release of funding for the transition, enabled the full briefing of incoming officials on the pandemic and national security matters. But he did none of those things, instead “devoting his energy to Twitter rants and lawsuits – which keep getting thrown out – rather than concerning himself with the important work of governance.”
Baratunde Thurston spoke for many Americans when he wrote, “for the past four years, I have been holding my breath, in a defensive crouch and bracing for the worst. I’ve expected some fresh horror, embarrassment or trauma to find its way onto one of my screens, and it’s been exhausting.” Now, after the victory of Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, “my heart is lifted, and I can exhale.” Thurston was one of 26 writers who responded to a request from CNN Opinion editors, led by Pat Wiedenkeller, for their thoughts on Biden’s election.
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“The lesson to learn from this election,” wrote Oren Cass, “is that, whoever you supported, about half of your fellow citizens felt otherwise. Neither vilifying nor condescending to them will change any minds. If you cannot understand how they could reach conclusions so different from your own, the fault lies with you, not them.”
The election was above all a fateful choice, wrote Melissa Gilbert: “America has resoundingly chosen truth over lies, inclusion over exclusion, science over ignorance, faith over fear, compassion over cruelty, respect over ridicule, love over hate, substance over style, selflessness over self-dealing, freedom over oppression, unity over division and a global outlook over myopia.”
And to Penn Jillette, it’s clear that Joe Biden now has “one job.” The 70 million-plus people who voted for Trump “are our neighbors and our relatives.” Biden must “fill all our hearts with love for each other” so we can “understand and move on together,” Jillette wrote.
‘Was it worth it?’
Something about Richard L. Eldredge’s family changed four years ago with the election of Donald Trump.
As they quarreled over politics, “family birthday greetings, anniversary celebrations and graduation photos eventually disappeared from my timeline as other family members used social media to take sides,” he wrote. “When I typed the names of relatives I’ve known and loved all my life into the Facebook search box, profiles popped up, along with the phrase ‘Add Friend.’” Other family members blocked him.
“How did we get here?”
Eldredge addressed one of his relatives, with whom he recalled playing “hundreds of games of Wiffle ball in my backyard until dark. After the death of my older brother, you lovingly, instinctively took over the role. You introduced me to The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and R.E.M. I thought you were a god.”
But then, “the invitations to your holiday gatherings stopped coming. Your daughter got married and I wasn’t invited. We haven’t spoken since 2017.”
“Over our love-filled 50-year bond, you chose a hate-filled New York millionaire who has never spent a moment with you, cried with one of you when your dad died, hugged another of you at your mom’s funeral or otherwise cared about you.”
For more on Election 2020:
CNN Opinion contributors: Ringing church bells, relief and schadenfreude: the world reacts to the Trump-Biden drama
Roxanne Jones: Kamala Harris shows Black women they have the power to change the world
Joe Lockhart: Democrats’ all-out battle over who deserves credit for Biden win
Thomas Balcerski: A history lesson on presidents who snub their successors’ inaugurations
Paul Callan: The Watergate-era strategies that might win Trump a pardon
Elie Honig: With his days in office numbered, here’s what Trump may try to do
Rich Thau: How to listen to Trump voters
Lawrence C. Levy: These are the gatekeepers who let Biden win
A vulnerable Thanksgiving
Covid-19 is spreading at record levels around the US and more peril lies ahead. Thanksgiving, a holiday that is so heavily based on family gatherings, poses the risk of more contagion.
“Small indoor gatherings are driving the recent spike in coronavirus cases,” wrote Céline Gounder, Ben Michaelis and Robert Cialdini. “Family and friends are getting together without masks because they look ‘fine.’ It’s not just that asymptomatic people are driving much of this spread. It’s also that we don’t want to think ill of our loved ones. We want to trust them and believe that they’re not going to harm us. And this makes many of our Thanksgiving traditions – whose comfort and consistency we crave – particularly dangerous in the midst of a pandemic.” Read their advice for celebrating the holiday safely.
The coronavirus surge is occurring when the nation is particularly vulnerable, wrote Kent Sepkowitz. President Trump is a lame duck whose term expires January 20, and President-elect Biden, who named a Covid-19 task force this week, can’t yet implement any changes in US health policy.
“This deepening crisis requires immediate, thoughtful, informed, evidence-based and decisive attention by the President and his advisers,” wrote Sepkowitz. “Otherwise, the pandemic will worsen, the economy will worsen and the morale of the American people will worsen.” Among the key questions is how to design a plan to distribute a vaccine, whether from Pfizer or its competitors, once it is approved.
The onrushing train
In the late spring of 2016, Peter Bergen interviewed President Barack Obama in the White House Situation Room and offhandedly asked him about his thoughts on what would happen if Donald Trump became President and had to make national security decisions. “Well, I don’t have those thoughts. Because I don’t expect that to happen,” Obama said.
Reviewing the first volume of Obama’s new book, Bergen wrote, “Trump hangs over Obama’s moving, beautifully written memoir of his first three years in office like an onrushing train that both the reader and author know is hurtling down the tracks to collide with what Obama hoped to achieve. In Obama’s own words, he was striving to ‘see if we can actually live up to the meaning of our creed’ and to continue the work-in-progress of making a more perfect, racially equitable ‘promised land’ that has already produced ‘Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers … Jackie Robinson … Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, Billie Holliday … Lincoln at Gettysburg.’”
Obama traces the GOP’s wrong turn in part to the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate in 2008. And then there was, as Bergen wrote, “Trump, who put into play repeatedly the lie – concocted to try to invalidate Obama’s presidency – that he wasn’t American, wasn’t born in the US (and might even be a secret Muslim). As Obama explains of Trump, ‘For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety.’”
RIP Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek hosted an astounding 8,200-plus episodes of “Jeopardy!” over 37 seasons and was still doing the show in recent weeks – before finally succumbing to cancer on November 8 after a long battle with the disease.
“Game show hosts tend to be stereotyped as sunny and anodyne, slick, toothy and insincere cheerleaders for their games and their contestants,” Jeff Yang wrote. “Trebek was, by contrast, what one might call a ‘real one.’ He was candid in his reactions, always ready to cock an eyebrow at a bad play and to bluntly call out obvious errors in the tones of a disappointed dad.”
“Yet somehow, he never seemed like a jerk. Though acerbic, his corrections always felt instructive, not destructive,” wrote Yang, who called him a role model for how Americans can behave following a contentious presidential election.
To Gayle Lemmon, Trebek’s death seemed like the loss of “a beloved relative.” When she was 10, her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. “By the time I turned 11 and 12, Alex was our favorite man of the house,” Lemmon wrote. “By then, he had settled into his hosting groove and my mother’s fight against cancer had turned into a daily bout with a cornucopia of medication, brain radiation and spinal taps.”
She and her mother would sit on a hospital bed and faithfully watch Jeopardy! at 7 p.m. each evening. Trebek’s “calm erudition and steady hand had the healing power of a soothing, magical balm that offered a half-hour power of forgetfulness and ease.”
Tess Taylor: We are going to have a president who quotes poetry
Chris Buckley: Former White supremacist: This is how to tackle hate and bigotry
Paul Moses: The disturbing truths in the new Vatican scandal report
Ja’net Bishop: This group is sometimes forgotten on Veterans Day
Jill Filipovic: The GOP is pitifully out of step with America on Obamacare
The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit is a popular set of opening moves in chess, familiar to fans of the game like such other sequences as the Ruy Lopez or the Nimzo Indian defense.
It’s also now a Netflix series about a fictional chess prodigy in the 1950s and 1960s. “For most of us, a show about a board game seems an improbable venue for riveting action,” wrote Sara Stewart. “And yet! Against the odds – kind of like its protagonist, Beth Harmon (played by Isla Johnston, then Anya Taylor-Joy) – this show is the perfect escapist entertainment for right now.”
What accounts for the success of the series? Stewart said, “it’s a dynamic character study with the sweeping emotional arc of a sports movie, set in an era in which the cultural deck is stacked against its heroine.”
The show celebrates a game in which intellect counts above all else. “It’s an alternate universe in which being smart is glamorous and people behave honorably,” Stewart wrote. “I’d like to spend more time there, so here’s hoping calls for a second season might become a reality.”