There are many things Joe Biden is not. He is not young. He is not an anti-establishment peacenik. He is not unbeholden to huge, anonymous donors. He is not free of accusations of using male privilege to be gropey with women. He is neither a radical, nor exciting. He is not a brilliant orator. He is not Bernie Sanders. And on it goes: the disappointments pile up thick and fast.
But he is not a loser – and he is not Donald Trump. So let us have a moment, however brief, of celebration.
Is the left so downright miserable that it cannot accept winning if the winner is imperfect or even worse than Trump, as I have seen some Instagram revolutionaries claim? Can we not luxuriate in Trump’s ongoing golf strop while creepy Rudy Giuliani rummages around in a car park next to a sex shop for a so-called press conference? Can we not speculate that Melania Trump already has the lawyers in? That pre-nup won’t go to waste.
The left is so accustomed to losing that a strange phenomenon has occurred: we have become sore winners. Biden did not win by enough, the complaints go, nor did he immediately acknowledge the groundwork by the left, nor the part played by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in his victory. Biden will be hamstrung, as the Democrats are unlikely to take control of the Senate, which hangs on the traditionally Republican vote in Georgia. The normality that Biden wants to restore is profoundly unequal … and on it goes.
Then there is Kamala Harris, who is also not good enough, apparently, because of her former role as a prosecutor, in which she ended up incarcerating a lot of black men. Yet here she is telling us that she is the first – but not the last – woman of colour to be vice-president. If that doesn’t gladden your heart, I don’t know what will.
God knows what damage Trump will do in the next months, assuming it is illegal to Taser him during his terrible swing and cart him off in a buggy. I imagine there will be lots of pardons for those still bobbing about in the cesspit. He is friendless, in denial and in enormous debt, apparently rejecting the advice of family members to concede. It is said that he screamed at Rupert Murdoch when Fox News called Arizona for Biden. Covid death figures mean nothing, ratings everything. His interior landscape seems to be a void.
Seventy million votes for Trump and these people are not going away – and don’t we know it?
Shops and offices are boarded up. The armed militias that Trump tells to stand by are still there. Many remain fearful. It strikes me that hope and fear are more intimately connected than we acknowledge. Many of us were afraid to hope for a Biden win because, lately, hopes have been dashed repeatedly. Yet, as the philosopher Ernst Bloch said: “Hope can learn and become smarter through damaging experience, but it can never be driven off course.” Hope, he said, is “characteristically daring”.
Biden has a huge mandate. In terms of the environment, surely the most important issue, he has room for manoeuvre: he can develop Barack Obama’s clean power plan; he can rejoin international accords; he can, in short, act as if the climate emergency is real. This is no small thing.
This election emphasised the gulf between the urban and rural populations of the US. The gulf is huge because the US is huge. I have read far too many leftist takes by those for whom New York, San Francisco and Washington DC constitute the US. Alabama, Montana, Kentucky, anyone?
The coastal elites are as ignorant of their own country as Europeans are. One of the shocks about the US is that the media remains local, rather than national. Trump worked this well, utilising what the historian Timothy Snyder has called “sadopopulism”, in which the state is not about governing, but about making others suffer more – hence the ever-expanding list of enemies, from Mexican “rapists” to journalists to the post office.
Covid exacerbated this. Mask wearers and people who told the truth about the disease were to be added to the long list of un-Americans. The delusion that “vulnerability is for losers” penetrated the psyches of those who were losing. The fantasy of winning back jobs is more appealing than the truth that some jobs can’t be won back. Trump voters remind me of something an MP in a leave constituency told me about Brexit: “You have to understand, it’s the first time they have been on the winning side in their lives.”
It is easy enough to mock that, but I wouldn’t. It is also easy enough to say Biden is not the revolution. Now that Trump is a gouged-out egomaniac, his narcissism has metastasised to many parts of the US, where the malignancy grows.
None of this easy, but a little light has got in. Celebrate the feeling while it lasts. The virus continues. Almost half of the US supports Trump, but something is changing. Take a deep breath. Inhale the hope, while you can.
Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist
• This article was amended on 11 November 2020. An earlier version incorrectly attributed a quote from the philosopher Ernst Bloch to the composer Ernest Bloch.