From the editor: Where we go from here

Why We Wrote This

On a day when the presidential election appears to be shifting into a new phase, Editor Mark Sappenfield shares how the Monitor is looking forward. 

Mary Altaffer/AP
Democratic and Republican canvas observers inspect Lehigh County provisional ballots as vote counting in the general election continues, Nov. 6, 2020, in Allentown, Pa.

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Reports suggest that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is nearing the threshold to win. The call of “who won the presidency” might finally be near after days of waiting.

President Donald Trump has filed lawsuits and made unfounded assertions about the legitimacy of the vote. But regardless of any allegations or prognostications, the process rolls on. Lawsuits grounded firmly in evidence must still play out in the courts. Results must be certified by states.

During the past week, that process has been a bright light. Forecasts of catastrophe were widespread. But vote counters have shown steadiness and resolve. First-time voters drove participation to historic levels. And the voting finished without any major incidence of violence.

Civility and grace and fair play have proved their fortitude and relevance in moments of doubt as well as certitude. As the process continues toward the inauguration on January 20, what has already been accomplished points to the way forward. The question of today, for everyone from first-time voters to the president, is: Are we committed to the bonds of trust and the mutual obligations that define America? The past week has shown the power of that commitment in the good of those working on behalf of democratic ideals. 

This past week has been difficult for many Americans, indeed even many outside the United States. To say tensions have run high after the Nov. 3 election would be an understatement. The United States has seesawed between two different paths forward, always with the advice to be patient while the electoral machinery finishes its job.

Today, a growing lead places Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden near the threshold of the White House, with reports suggesting calls could come soon. Mr. Biden’s campaign has been speaking with increasing confidence. President Donald Trump has filed lawsuits and made unfounded assertions about the legitimacy of the vote.

But what has really happened? Lawsuits grounded firmly in evidence must still play out in the courts. Results must be certified by states, electoral votes cast. Today was an important mile marker. But in waiting for networks to make a call, it is possible that we missed a larger lesson from the past week.

Weeks ago, predictions of electoral chaos and collapse were not difficult to find. But the overwhelming story of the election so far is one of professionalism and patriotic duty by civil servants and elected officials. So far the process has worked amid the unprecedented pressures of a pandemic and mass mail-in voting.

Vote counters present an image of steadiness and resolve to a high civic calling. First-time voters like Zack Ness – who told the Monitor he also helped his father cast his first-ever ballot – drove participation to levels unseen in more than a century. And the voting finished without any major incidence of violence.

The process will continue until the inauguration on January 20. But what has already been accomplished points to the way forward. During the past three days, civility and grace and fair play have proved their fortitude and relevance in moments of doubt as well as certitude. They fueled a remarkable achievement – a peaceful, professional election amid a pandemic and historic political polarization.

In the end, the Founders could set up only the guardrails for the American experiment. The best defense against tyranny are constitutional guarantees of individual liberty along with institutions that check each other. Recent years have shown that turning political opponents into personal enemies leaves much of the promise of democracy untapped. The country can survive, but in lurching from crisis to crisis, it only becomes more divided.

This day asks everyone, from first-time voters to the president himself, to consider: Are we committed to the bonds of trust and the mutual obligations that define America?

When the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, was asked about her politics in the election year of 1908, she answered: “I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself.” 

Her words point to qualities of thought – away from self and toward humility, love, and service – as the ground on which government must rest. And while this week has shown many different portraits of America, perhaps the most overlooked one is the most important. It shows clearly that the greatest power we possess to heal and help the nation is the good in hearts aspiring upward toward a greater, stronger whole.

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