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Column: Recognizing who we are
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Column: Recognizing who we are

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts

Forgive me for being the ant at the picnic.

Certainly, this is a glad moment, an ecstatic and delirious moment. The election of 2020 has ended at last. Joe Biden is finally the president-elect and Donald Trump is finally consigned to the dank well of ignominy he so richly deserves.

As Gerald Ford once said in the aftermath of a less dire threat, “Our long national nightmare is over.” As the Munchkins of Oz once sang, “Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.”

But if gladness is mandated, caveats are required. America needed an emphatic rejection that left no doubt the chaos, lies, lawlessness, bigotry and ignorance Trump represented were not, as some of us are overly fond of claiming, “who we are as a people.” We needed to deliver him a thundering, emphatic rejection.

And we did not. To the contrary, a victory that should have been an overwhelming landslide had to be eked into existence. Indeed, even in defeat, Trump actually improved on his 2016 popular vote count by — at this writing — roughly 7 million.

Think about that. After he bungled a pandemic (236,000 Americans dead), after he botched the economy (nearly 5 million jobs lost — more than any president since World War II), after he alienated our allies and emboldened our enemies, after he undermined every government institution down to, and including, the National Weather Service, after he extorted Ukraine, occupied Portland and declared war on Lafayette Square, and after he embraced an agenda of brazen white supremacy, after, in other words, they lost the excuse of ignorance because they knew exactly what he was, 7 million more people cast their ballots for Trump.

Yes, he lost. Yes, Biden tallied more votes than any candidate in history and, of course, won the Electoral College. But the caveat looms large. Faced with a clear choice between good and evil, America did the right thing, barely. That is sobering and profoundly disappointing.

And it strips bare all the glossy claims about who we are as a country, underscoring the fact that in a meaningful sense, we are not one country at all anymore, but two sharing the same borders. The last time that happened, it took four years and 750,000 lives to force us back into some semblance of oneness. Even then, the seams of the fracture were always visible.

Unlike that break, this one is not starkly geographic: South versus North. No, this one is city versus country, college educated versus high school educated and, most significantly, future versus past. Meaning that yesterday, this was a nation where white people were the majority, and tomorrow it will be one where they are not.

The fear and resentment that inspires in many white people cannot be overstated. It has warped our politics for years, culminating in the disaster of Trump. Now Biden is elected on a promise to heal those breaks, but that will require more than a good man’s good intentions. It will require white Americans to divest a system of white supremacy that, let’s face it, has been very, very good to them.

Unfortunately, it has been less good for the country. So a moral reckoning is required here. It is time more white Americans finally recognize that white supremacy is not something you compromise with or rationalize. It must be a deal breaker, always. And it isn’t, as evidenced by the fact that the man who called Mexicans rapists and Haiti, El Salvador and the nations of Africa “shithole countries,” who described neo-Nazis as “very fine people” and told four congresswomen of color to “go back” where they came from just won 7 million more votes than he did in 2016.

That’s “who we are as a people.” Let us stop kidding ourselves about that.

And start figuring out how to become what we said we were all along.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

©2020 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Faced with a clear choice between good and evil, America did the right thing, barely. That is sobering and profoundly disappointing.

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