The dust may still be settling and a flurry of legal challenges are in train, yet Joe Biden, soon to be 78, will be inaugurated as the next President of the United States in January.
After four years of Donald Trump, a period of widespread unrest and constant controversy, many Americans and global observers are hopeful that things will be dialled down a notch.
The mixture of relief and jubilation was palpable at the boisterous celebrations in city streets last weekend.
Biden faces a monumentally difficult task; how to reconcile profound differences in a country that is mired in an internal war of hearts and minds. The results of the election are a manifestation of the divide.
The proud Irish-American from Scranton, Pennsylvania, may have vanquished a sitting commander-in-chief – no small feat in and of itself - but it was closer than most expected.
Were it not for the coronavirus, Trump may well have triumphed. And it was a weak outing overall for the Democratic Party. Despite favourable indicators and thinly-veiled optimism in advance, the party has not regained control of the US Senate and its majority in the US House of Representatives was eroded.
Republicans likewise find themselves in a quandary. The reticence of the party’s leadership to forthrightly condemn President Trump's deranged post-election speeches, in which he made a series of fantastical claims, implied that his appointees to the Supreme Court would do his bidding and falsely declared himself the winner, is telling.
Trump has executed a takeover of the GOP; the grassroots have embraced his ideology, which departs radically from traditional conservativism in many ways, and his persona. Accordingly, the party’s elected officials are wary of taking on the president.
Before pondering the future trajectory of American politics, the potential pivots of the two major parties and the feasibility of bringing citizens of good faith back together, it is worth visiting some of the systemic and structural issues that have been debated and discussed extensively as of late.
Much is made of voter suppression in the US. Regrettably, there is no doubt that it goes on and that it is usually targeted at preventing low-income people and racial minorities from exercising their democratic right.
Vigilance on this front is necessary and those in positions of power who seek to minimise participation should be held to account.
Yet assertions that requirements for individuals to produce photo identification or proof of residence are tantamount to voter suppression are, frankly, ludicrous. Polling cards in Ireland indicate that people must have the same evidence in their possession when they go to cast ballots.
Notwithstanding the vigorous criticisms of the process in the US, a record number of men and women voted in 2020. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, states allowed for early voting and utilised a variety of methods to engage those who are generally uninterested.
For instance, the city of Boston allowed for voting at Fenway Park, a sacred site for us locals, and attracted massive crowds who were easily able to physically distance in its cavernous open spaces. Other municipalities did similar.
It succeeded. Approximately 160 million Americans turned out. The percentages of young people, Hispanics and other groupings voting went up dramatically. This is an encouraging sign.
"Many supporters of the Democratic Party – and to a lesser degree, backers of the other side – are aggrieved by where they are at and find fault with the system or the structures of American democracy"
Government officials were forced to think laterally during a public health crisis and the expanded opportunities for citizens to have a say in the direction of their nation, their state and their locality should not be foreclosed post-Covid 19. Indeed, the rest of the world could learn from what was done so well.
The Electoral College and now the US Senate are squarely in the line of fire for those who consider each outdated relics of a foregone era. It is hard to argue, however, that the motivations of those who want to consign the two institutions to the dustbin of history are not linked to their own ideology and their displeasure with the results that the system has thrown up.
Writing in The Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole opines that the "US 'system of governance’ is minority rule" and that the Senate "is a bulwark of minority power".
The case against the Electoral College is well-known and cogently made – even if it is unpersuasive to many. The critiques of the Senate are relatively new and equally short-sighted.
Because they are constitutional creations and because the US Constitution is so hard to amend, change to either the Electoral College and Senate will be hard won. But the disparaging of the latter cannot go unanswered.
All 50 states have two members in the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate, regardless of population; all 50 states have a number of members in the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, that is proportionate to their population.
The framers established a balance between state and national governments. It is more necessary and appropriate now in a vast and diverse country of roughly 330,000,000 people. Cities and suburbs have swelled and rural areas have declined.
Consequently, a third of Americans live in four states: California, Florida, New York and Texas. By the logic of those who disdain the Senate’s current composition, they should be represented thusly in the Senate.
What would the summary disenfranchisement of numerous states then engender? Alienation, disempowerment, frustration and, in some instances, secession movements. Think the US is riven now? Imagine that scenario.
Those who advocate such raw majoritarianism would do well to evaluate the extent to which the spirit of their favoured reforms would diminish Ireland’s status within the European Union. It’s an apt analogy.
Many supporters of the Democratic Party - and to a lesser degree, backers of the other side - are aggrieved by where they are at and find fault with the system or the structures of American democracy.
They are missing the point however. They have not been "doing politics" well enough. In this respect, it is a good thing that the incoming president served for decades in the Senate from a small state, Delaware, and is a quintessential institutionalist.
Joe Biden is also a centrist with a track record of co-operating with politicians of all stripes to the benefit of the nation. Moreover, his old friend Mitch McConnell will - barring two earthquakes in upcoming run-off contests for seats in Georgia - still be majority leader in the Senate.
Biden will have to keep reaching across the aisle in order to accomplish his objectives. Donald Trump pledged that he would work with Democrats to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure. He did not. Biden should have this at the top of his priority list. It's badly needed and would deliver political rewards.
Another subject that warrants bi-partisan attention is the outrageous cost of higher education in the US. It is a colossal rip-off and unfathomable that the understandable worries of countless parents - 'how can we do right by our kids?' - have not featured more prominently on the parties' agendas.
There is simply no plausible justification as to why annual costs run as high as $75,000 dollars to attend top-ranked colleges and universities.
Politicians have responded in the past by increasing the amount students can borrow. This has crippled an entire generation with mammoth debt. It's time for some outside the box thinking and, indeed, for politicians to play hardball with representatives of the third-level sector: slash tuition or we will make your lives very difficult. Virtually all Americans would applaud.
"The gulf is too broad to be bridged in four years, but Joe Biden can commence construction of that bridge"
Biden and his party must address two glaring problems this election has highlighted.
First, they have lost touch with the men and women who work with their hands and live pay cheque to pay cheque throughout that large and amorphous entity, Middle America. They must revive their faith to have a chance to win offices in all 50 states. The party should establish a committee of moderate to conservative Democrats from battleground and red states to devise a "back to basics" plan.
Second, they have failed quite spectacularly in their outreach to Latinos and apparently misunderstood what matters most to them. Of course, the community is comprised of many different cultures and is not homogenous.
That said, it is downright extraordinary that a man, who campaigned on building a wall on the southern border with Mexico and called immigrants from South and Central America "criminals" and "rapists" won more than one-third of self-described Latinos’ votes.
They cannot take the fastest growing bloc in the US for granted anymore or assume that demographics is destiny. Latino-Americans may be more akin to Irish-Americans - that is, split in their allegiance to the two parties - than African-Americans. Democrats need to listen to them and reflect upon what is communicated.
Both of these constituencies have drifted in large part as a result of the party's leftward lurch on cultural issues. The US is unlike most other western countries in that so many people vote primarily on topics such as abortion, gun ownership and the place of religion in society.
Well-heeled donors on the coasts, for whom social progressivism is the animating impulse of their political activism, have exerted grossly disproportionate influence over the party. For instance, Democrats must make people with strong convictions against abortion feel more welcome. There are only two major parties; it is foolish to close what should be huge tents to anyone.
Because money talks in American politics and there are no dollars in moderation or nuance, Republicans should continue to benefit from an unwillingness to push back, even a little bit, at the hyper-secularism that permeates the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, on substance, this election has revealed that Trump's America First philosophy is now GOP dogma; the traditional conservatism espoused by the Bush family, John McCain and, lately, the Lincoln Project has been rejected. The political gains accruing therefrom are undeniable.
The immediate challenge for those who call the shots in the party is how to handle the outgoing president. The degree to which his popularity is down to a cult of personality has to trouble Republican political strategists.
Ideally, Trump would go on his way and pass the mantle to a fresh messenger. That's not going to happen. Managing the bombastic New York billionaire won't be easy. And it's anyone’s guess as to what he might be capable of. The bottom line, from this remove, is that Donald Trump - or perhaps his namesake - could run again. That would be a nightmare for the GOP.
Returning to 2020, there is no doubt that America is divided. Joe Biden has one hell of a job on his hands. It's unenviable. The gulf is too broad to be bridged in four years. But he can commence construction of that bridge.
A good start would be to restore civility to public discourse and to upbraid politicians, including those from his own tribe, who lower the tone.
An awful lot of Americans decided on Joe Biden because they see him as someone of strong moral character who their sons and daughters should emulate, unlike the incumbent. Biden must lead, and can help heal, by example.
There is a litany of sad stories of family members and friends who have been torn apart by their divergent perspectives on Donald Trump and who have severed ties. It hurts to hear this, especially when there is plenty that still unites us.
By way of anecdote, just as Joe Biden was finally declared the winner and president-elect, my lifelong pals - Trump devotees, Trump haters, in-betweeners - gathered to drink beers. They desperately wanted to relax and revert to talking nonsense and repeating the same old fables after months of heated arguments about politics and about the future of a country we all love so much.
I think my crew is the norm, not the exception. Hope springs eternal. It may sound glib or twee, but that's the essence of America.
Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a regular contributor to RTÉ radio and television on politics, current affairs and law.