The Moral Universe Bends
Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump was not just about politics.
Let me tell you what this means.
On the night of January 29, 2017, just nine days after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, I looked at an America I no longer recognized. Two days earlier the President had signed Executive Order 13769, better known as the Muslim Ban, and I watched scenes from airports around the country that night where immigration officials were detaining arriving travellers, ostensibly because of their nations of origin but really because of the religion they practiced.
It was certainly what I had feared as I had watched the Trump campaign through the summer and fall of 2016 and listened to his hate-filled inaugural address on January 20th, but something in me broke as I saw my greatest fears playing out on the screen before me.
That moment was only the beginning. The headlines would change over the next four years, but there was always one constant. The man at the center of the drama was devoid of compassion and, it seemed to me, bent on the destruction of everything this country is supposed to stand for.
But to truly explain the personal significance of Joe Biden’s decisive victory over the President, finally called this morning with details in a few states left to wrap up, I have to share three moments.
Twelve years ago on the evening of Tuesday, November 8th, I took our son and two daughters with me to cast my vote for president. They were young — three, six, and eight — but it was still crowded in the voting booth as I gathered them in front of me and asked them to watch as I punched the circle next to the name Barack Obama. On the way back to the car, I got down on one knee so I could look them in the eyes one by one, and I told them simply, “Never forget this night. Never forget the night that your father was able to vote for someone who looked like him to become President of the United States.”
The world was changing, but eight years later it changed back.
During the presidential campaign of 2016, our younger daughter, Kate, eleven years old at the time, noticed that Hillary Clinton was running.
“Can a woman be president?” she asked.
I told her that it hadn’t happened before, but that now the country was ready. Immediately she became one of Secretary Clinton’s biggest fans, watching her speeches without really understanding them, then writing letters wishing her luck. Circumstances put me in Nevada with my older daughter, Alison, for the Nevada Caucuses, and blind luck put me face to face for a conversation with Kate’s hero. I told her about the little girl back home who was rooting for her, and as soon as the entourage moved on, I pulled out my phone to call home.
“Kate, I just met Hillary, and I told her about you.”
It was a conversation I’ll never forget, but it led to something else that’s also burned in my memory. While our nation was being ripped apart on Election Night 2016, my thoughts turned to Kate. She knew nothing about Donald Trump and didn’t hold the same fears for the future that I did; all she knew was that her hero had lost. I did my best to comfort her, but she was sobbing as I tucked her in that night.
Alison was sixteen at the time, so her concerns were deeper. “He’s really gonna win?” she asked.
There were tears in my eyes as I nodded, but I also offered comfort. “Dr. King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Remember that — ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’” Even if my own hope was wavering that night, I wanted hers to stay strong.
And so all of those moments spun around in my head as I watched Joe Biden’s face flash onto the television screen this morning along with the words “President Elect.” After enduring four years of President Trump and then four days of waiting for the official election results, the news of his defeat washed over me in waves of relief, joy, and redemption. Suddenly, I mattered again. Suddenly all of us did.
When I woke up Kate to hug her and tell her the news, we were both crying again, but these tears were different.