“Tomorrow is the beginning of a new day,” Joe Biden said in his final campaign rally in Pittsburgh on the eve of the US election. “There’s one more day to show who we are as a country: looking out for each other, the thousand acts of kindness, the decency that people used to show one another – and still do.”
Three days later, Donald Trump appeared in the press briefing room of the White House and let the world know what he thinks of kindness and decency. With votes still being counted, he laid out a paranoid fantasy of a vast leftwing conspiracy stealing the election from him, one fraudulent ballot at a time.
For the media networks who cut away from Trump’s speech after just a few minutes, it was all too easy to dismiss his lie-infested rant as the death rattle of a man whose political lifeblood was being drained from him in real time. You could almost say his speech was irrelevant, given that no one is above the law and he doesn’t get to choose, no matter how charismatic he looks on TV.
Except for three inconvenient truths: Trump will continue to be head of state of the most powerful nation on Earth until at least 20 January; 70 million Americans voted for him, of whom a portion is likely to be susceptible to his falsehoods; some 17m guns have been bought so far this year – the largest number in US history.
Nor did this outpouring of baseless histrionics end with the president. The rightwing talkshow host Mark Levin called on Republican state lawmakers to bypass the vote entirely and declare Trump the winner no matter what the final count.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House now facing charges for running a fraudulent scheme to build the Mexican border wall, told Fox News: “Donald Trump won an overwhelming victory on Tuesday night. It’s now time to be bold, we have got to stop playing games here.”
A few hours later Facebook permanently suspended one of Bannon’s accounts after he suggested senior members of the Trump administration should be beheaded. Facebook also banned a group, “Stop the Steal”, that popped up on its platform attracting within the first 24 hours some 350,000 members, a number of whom made “worrying calls for violence”.
Joe Biden, assuming he is declared the next occupant of the Oval Office, is going to have to climb a steep and stony path before he can drag America back to anything resembling decency.
For a moment it looked almost promising. Election day itself went more smoothly than many had expected, with little of the militia activity and intimidation that was hovering so menacingly in the wings.
But in the days since, during the agonizingly prolonged period of counting, more ominous signs emerged. Trump supporters assembled in large crowds outside vote-counting centres in Phoenix, Arizona, and Detroit, Michigan, some bearing firearms.
It’s enough to generate the sense of a nation teetering on the edge. Human rights groups, whose focus normally falls on the likes of Myanmar or Saudi Arabia, are paying close attention.
“It’s a very serious situation and it is getting worse,” said Bob Goodfellow, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA. “We are worried about the immediate coming days, which are likely to be volatile.”
Amnesty research has found a steady escalation in political violence in the US. Between May and September, the human rights watchdog documented confrontations between protesters and counter-protests in 37 of the 50 states.
The group is especially concerned about Trump’s incendiary language as he attempts to cling to power. “We see President Trump continually engaging in rhetoric that threatens public safety and facilitates violence,” Goodfellow said.
As Biden contemplates forming an administration, he has more to worry about than just the next few days. There’s also the sobering prospect of Trumpism living on even beyond its creator.
The adoration that Trump has instilled in his millions of supporters, the fervor with which many appear to have bought his demagoguery and misinformation, are forces that show no sign of abating. The extraordinarily close outcome of the race in so many critical battleground states can only fire those emotions.
The Guardian asked Roger Stone what he thought would become of the Maga movement under a Biden presidency. Would it fade away?
Stone has skin in this game, it should be noted. In July his longtime friend, Trump, commuted his sentence for obstructing a congressional investigation.
He is also legendary for the political dirty tricks he has pioneered since he began working as a teenager for Richard Nixon in the early 1970s (he has a tattoo of Nixon on his back). He can also claim to be the source of the rallying cry now being deployed by Trump – “Stop the Steal” – which Stone coined back in 2016 as an attempt allegedly to intimidate minority voters during the battle with Hillary Clinton.
But Stone is also a seasoned observer of rightwing political machinations, and as such is a credible analyst of what might become of the red-capped Trump fanatics. Far from disappearing, he believes, they are going to be encouraged and emboldened whatever the next few days and weeks might bring.
“The movement is much larger than Donald Trump. The neocon establishment Republicans who think they will take control of the GOP are dreaming,” he said.
Stone went on: “Donald Trump’s movement is stronger than ever. It is going to thrive, and the fight to make America great again is going to continue.”
That’s a chilling prospect for a nascent Biden presidency. The Democrats are already having to digest the likelihood that they have failed to flip the US Senate, pending the outcome of two possible runoff elections in Georgia in January.
Unless they win both those long-shot races, the Senate will probably be left in the deadeningly obstructionist hands of the Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell. As Biden knows well from his eight years alongside Barack Obama, McConnell – dubbed the “Grim Reaper” for his impact on legislation – delights in nothing more than stymying Democratic presidents at every turn.
David French, a prominent Republican critic of Trump, wrote in the Dispatch: “The underlying disease of American division and polarization remains. If anything, a divided government will cause it to intensify.”
That’s the rosy prospect that lies ahead as Joe Biden inches ever closer to the highest office. A bright future looks within his grasp as president of the Disunited States of America.