WASHINGTON, D.C. — For just a few minutes on Saturday night, the massive crowd celebrating the election results at Black Lives Matter Plaza quieted down and turned their attention to the loudspeakers in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Joe Biden was addressing the nation for the first time as the president-elect.
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again,” said Biden, who was speaking from Delaware. “To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans.”
Some cheered at the notion. Others booed. One girl rolled her eyes.
This may well be indicative of the massive task that lies at Biden’s feet. After the most hostile presidential election in recent memory, the president-elect is now responsible for bringing together a bitterly divided nation.
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) believes he is the right man for the job. In an interview with San José Spotlight, the congresswoman explained Biden can work with those on both sides of the aisle.
“He really listens to other people, and he tries to find common ground,” she said. “That’s something that we haven’t had in the White House for some time.”
Biden, who spent nearly 40 years in the Senate, formed notable friendships with several Republicans, including the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. A few prominent Republicans, like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and former president George W. Bush, were also quick to congratulate Biden for his victory over President Donald Trump on Saturday.
Even if Republicans hold onto their majority in the Senate, Lofgren is hopeful the two parties and the new president will be able to work together. Given that the nation is struggling with a deadly pandemic, the congresswoman suspects many Americans will quickly lose patience with any elected official who refuses to reach across the aisle.
“We are going to strive to have legislation that serves America well. I would hope that members of both parties would work toward that goal,” she said. “…Some issues are just going to be a disagreement because they’re a matter of principle. But if you can’t agree on issue number one, that should never keep you from going ahead with issue two, three or four.”
The congresswoman also acknowledged Trump’s recent behavior may have unnerved many of her constituents. But she urged everyone to remain calm, regardless of whether the president ever concedes.
“The American voters make that decision, not him,” Lofgren said. “We have a new president who will be sworn in and that’s it. We have to pull together as a country now, get ahead of the pandemic and heal our wounds.”
The United States has a long history of peaceful transfers of power. President George H.W. Bush, the most recent president besides Trump to lose his bid for reelection, even famously penned a warm letter to President Bill Clinton congratulating him on his victory and welcoming him to the White House.
But the current president has broken that tradition.
Trump falsely claimed last week he had won the election, even as votes were still being counted in major battleground states. He has repeatedly accused Democrats of election fraud and refuses to concede.
His comments quickly sparked strong reactions nationwide. Some of his supporters swarmed voting centers in several states to protest, a police chief in Arkansas called for death to the Democrats and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon shared a video on social media pushing for Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray to be beheaded.
While a handful of Republican legislators acknowledged Biden’s victory, far more have stayed silent or actively supported Trump’s right to fight the election results.
“Every recount must be completed. Every legal challenge must be heard,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) wrote on Twitter the day after Biden’s victory. “Then and only then does America decide who won the race.”
Some members of Trump’s cabinet have gone a step further. During a news conference this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there will be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
Dr. Meg Gudgeirsson, a lecturer of U.S. history at Santa Clara University, said the nation is obviously struggling with a deep political divide. But she pointed out this isn’t exactly new.
“It’s certainly not our first divisive election,” she said, adding that even the four-way presidential race of 1824 left many citizens disgruntled after it established no clear winner. “We have a very long history of great divisiveness.”
But Gudgeirsson is concerned by the president’s refusal to acknowledge the election results. It signals to citizens that they no longer have to accept election results that they don’t like, she said, which is an alarming precedent to set in a democracy.
Gudgeirsson said it also appears many elected officials no longer even want to attempt to compromise with members of the other party. The rhetoric has become so heated, she suspects many lawmakers fear it would only upset their base.
There was a similar political discord throughout the 1850s, she added, and that ultimately culminated in the Civil War.
The historian advised Americans to take time to pause and reflect on the past.
“I think our country works best when we remember what we have overcome together,” she said.
Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.