The Associated Press has called the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Joe Biden has given his victory speech. The current electoral college vote stands at 306 for Biden, 232 for Trump. After much uncertainty, the methodical counting and tabulation of American votes revealed our president-elect: Joe Biden.
However, the current president has yet to concede. One of the last times he spoke publicly about the election was November 5, in the midst of the counting. And in that briefing, President Trump did not address the American people.
Yes, he stood in the White House briefing room, at the podium with the presidential seal, and spoke to the reporters there. Yes, he held a press conference in the middle of the third night Americans had spent patiently waiting for 2020 election results. Yes, he talked about that election, and the ongoing tabulation of votes happening across the country. His purpose, he said was to “provide the American people with an update on our efforts to protect the integrity of our very important 2020 election.”
But President Trump’s address that night was not to America.
Polling data and the bright blue and red of this election have quantified what Americans have observed for years: the United States of America is a nation deeply divided. In an election that many predicted would end in a decisive victory, the incumbent President Trump has still received some 73 million-plus votes so far nationwide. The results were close, with several states becoming the key battlegrounds in the race to 270 electoral votes. Here in Georgia, the initial re-count showed the president and president-elect only separated by 12,284 votes – a microcosm of the deep political divide across our nation.
This election cycle has dominated every news station since Super Tuesday. Americans have been stressed, anxious, and impatient waiting for results. In a tense situation like this, the goal of a leader is to unite the nation with reassurance and support. Their goal is to remind the people that, in spite of our divisions, America is a democracy and their votes are being counted.
But President Trump’s version of leadership has consistently exacerbated divisions, inflaming them, sparking unrest and hate and anger. In the second full sentence of his briefing on November 6, the president laid out his goal clearly: not to unite, but to divide. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.” He set up the election as “them” versus “us.”
President Trump went on to list his genuine wins in many states. Each time, he asserted “we won.” “We kept the Senate” (an outcome which, actually, has not yet been decided). “We grew our party by 4 million voters.” “We went to court in a couple of instances.” “We think we will win the election very easily.”
But every time the president said the word “we” or “us,” he was talking about the Republican Party. More specifically, he was talking about his supporters in the Republican Party, his campaign, his people in power. He was talking about himself.
Let’s put aside, for a moment, the falsehoods, unverified claims, Internet conspiracies, and blatant lies that President Trump repeated during his address. The purpose of his speech — to protect election integrity — is, of course, an important and noble goal. The legal votes must be counted; the results must be verified, and no one should be interfering with this election.
But President Trump wants to protect election integrity for the benefit of one person: himself. America needs reassurance; the president is only offering it to his own supporters. America needed unity; our president has worsened the divide. Every free and fair election is a battle of the strength of its democracy against the temptations of power. By framing this election as a fraud, continuing to contest the verified results, and discrediting the work of election officials and voters across the nation, President Trump is helping our nation lose that battle.
At the end of his address, the president said “it’s not a question of who wins, Republican, Democrat, Joe, myself.” He added that “we can’t be disgraced” by having election fraud in our country. On its own, the statements imply a respect for American democracy. But from every prior instance he used the word “we” in his speech, the viewers at home knew that when he said “we” can’t be disgraced, he was not talking about America.
Presidential speeches, from Republicans and Democrats alike, go down in history for how they have united the country in times of turmoil, division, and distress. In his first Fireside Chat address after assuming office during the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the nation we “must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear… Together, we cannot fail.” After winning an nomination to run for Illinois state Senator as the nation was split over the institution of slavery, Abraham Lincoln said, famously, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural address, he reassured the nation that “[f]or all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old.” Thomas Jefferson, too: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” John F. Kennedy: “United there is little we cannot do… Divided there is little we can do.“
In his victory speech, Biden promised “to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify.”
With the results of the election officially called by the AP, CNN, Fox News, the New York Times, NBC, and all other major news outlets, and the legal challenges mounted by the Trump campaign against the results struggling to find ground, this is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump’s presidency. And so far, all we as Americans will have to remember him by are those last, desperate words from Thursday night, spoken not as a leader but as someone trying by any means to hold onto power for himself.
They are words meant to divide us. It is our responsibility to ensure they do not.