No one seems able to explain what happened.
The presidential election of 2020 was supposed to end far differently than the returns on Tuesday evening reported. Everyone was wrong.
None but a backwoods polling outfit came close to discovering what American voters were thinking. They asked the one question that turned out right when they asked a person who claimed to be a regular voter, “Who do you support for president?” and they got the answer, “I’m for Biden.” “And who do your neighbors support?” the pollster asked. “Oh, they’re all for Trump.”
The world’s finest minds, whether liberal or conservative, denounced Trump. His political mistakes seem limitless, as did his lies. Republican political professionals created the Lincoln Project and a magnificent set of television commercials against Trump. But nothing worked.
At the start of Trump’s term four years ago and still four years later, 40% of American voters stand with him, admitting his faults, acknowledging his tragic weaknesses, admiring the three or four positive accomplishments of his administration and privately still support him.
Nobody can explain it.
But in spite of a narrow Electoral College win but with a historic-sized popular vote, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. — as of this writing — looks positioned to become the new president of the United States.
What does Joe Biden know that we do not know? Why do some of us still ask if Biden is big enough for the job?
Abraham Lincoln failed in the election of 1860 to win a clear majority and was often considered too big himself but too small for the job.
FDR was described by a luminary of the 1930s as a man with a wonderful personality but a second-rate mind.
Churchill was thought to be incompetent for his mistakes during World War I. But today he is often described as one of the two men who won World War II. FDR was the other.
Pope John 23rd was considered too old when the College of Cardinals elected him. “He’ll be in interim pope,” many said, yet he turned the Church around and headed it into the future.
Harry Truman was at times the “Senator from Pendergrass,” the crooked boss of Kansas City, or the “Little Man from Missouri.” Today historians place him among our finest presidents.
LBJ spent his early days in Congress supporting every Southern anti-civil rights measure ever presented, yet as president told his wife, “Bird, I’m the president of the United States, not a congressman from the South, and I’m going to sign that civil rights law because it’s right.”
Each of these leaders had character. Each entered their position of leadership with vast experience. Each departed from his origins and assumed leadership in ways which none of them could have anticipated. In hindsight it is clear that each of these leaders brought knowledge to their new roles as leaders which at first seemed missing from their past lives.
As they entered their final job, the job for which history holds them in awe, none of them could imagine what was ahead of them. None of them could give answers to the seemingly impossible set of problems they faced. Each had a human quality which others admired. Each acted with clear purposes. Each took bold steps.
Biden follows in the molds left by these leaders of years past. He knows the world and its leaders and its problems. He knows our nation and its people and our problems. He has experienced deep days of loss and dashing days of love which build those qualities which America has only begun to know and admire in him.
I’m not worried that we fail to understand how or why Trump is admired by the constant 40% of our country who vote for him when every thoughtful person seems to disagree. I doubt that Joe Biden could give any better answer to that question than any of us can. But that’s not the point.
Joe Biden has the depth of character shared by the greats of our history that gives me faith that I had the right yard sign these last few weeks in my front yard.
Richard Fellman, a retired lawyer, has taught in the political science department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He is a former Nebraska state senator and Douglas County Board chairman.
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