“Everything’s Different, Nothing’s Changed”

With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s victory, the next step on the path out of the Trump presidency has been cleared. Thank heavens.

But where are we this morning, and where are we heading now?

In other words, what exactly is different this morning to the way it was yesterday morning?

If you have been (or remain) fixated on the presidency itself, the easy answer is, “everything!” Insofar as the president is a symbol of the nation, at home and abroad, that’s essentially true.

But with the largest sample size in 120 years telling us the nation is really divided, with Covid still surging, and with more than 70 days to go before the keys to the White House actually change hands, some sober reflection is probably in order after the exhalations and exuberance of yesterday.

We have a chance to move forward, and that’s precious. (After all, the first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging!) But consider what we’re moving on from: much of what has become true over the past four years and what was true over the past four days is still true now.


A few readings I’ve found helpful on the long-term view of what’s happening:

  • George Packer, “There’s No Escaping Who We Have Become.” An excellent, brief take written between election and decision by one of the original chroniclers of the “unwinding” of modern America.
  • Janan Ganesh, “A Fickle America Cannot Lead the World.” In the Financial Times — always valuable for its less-U.S.-centric perspective — Ganesh notes that, having experienced Trump and learned to hedge against the United States, the rest of the world will still cover its bets even as it joyfully welcomes a more traditional U.S. president. (If you knew that another Republican was going to be elected in the next decade or so, wouldn’t you do the same?)
  • Marilynne Robinson, “America — A Nation Out of Joint.” Also writing in the FT, Robinson takes stock of a country and a culture badly wrenched by five years of out-of-line behavior.