MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Late morning calm settled in a November Saturday in a cozy blanket of suburban serenity. Suddenly, during the explosion at the stadium level, there was the shattering rock ‘n’ roll roar of victory:
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you
Sounds of something unleashed – banging pots, honking horns, primitive screams – erupt from all directions in Maplewood, NJ And as another Queen song echoed from the muscular speakers in his garage, Zack Kurland stood at the edge of his driveway, his arms raised like Rocky.
We are the champions
We are the champions
His wife, Neena Kumar, ran up and jumped into his arms. News had just arrived that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had been declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, and now both whirled around in an impromptu public dance of triumph.
The moment conjures up an iconic American image: a WWII sailor spontaneously kissing a woman in a nurse’s uniform in Times Square after the announcement of victory in Europe. Only instead of VE Day, it was VB Day: Victory for Biden.
But not everyone was dancing. The triumph in a foreign war unifies a country; triumph in an election has the hidden potential to further divide. And by Sunday morning, part of the celebration and mourning had melted to expose a difficult question for divided families and a divided nation:
Certainly, a record number of more than 75 million Americans voted for Mr. Biden, the Democratic challenger, and his vice president, Kamala Harris, the first woman elected vice president. It’s also true that more than 71 million others are now grappling with the concept that their candidate – Donald J. Trump, the incumbent Republican – would most likely be marked by his worst epithet: loser.
If Trump loyalists were honking their horns at all on Saturday, it was likely to clear the streets of cheering Biden supporters. And the only hope offered by their leader was a wish to challenge in court what he claimed, without proof, was a fraudulent election.
By refusing, for now, to publicly accept the election results, Mr. Trump was almost inviting discord and interrupting the dance. And some have accepted his invitation.
Trump supporters have staged ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies outside state capitals across the country, though their cries of electoral corruption have occasionally come as news of Mr Biden’s declared victory lit smartphones everywhere .
In Sacramento, California, videos captured confrontations that turned into physical assaults; some in the fray wore the black and yellow polo shirts often associated with the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump far-right group that was no stranger to violence. Another video, from Salem, Ore, showed a man dressed in Proud Boys clothing discharging what appeared to be pepper spray, after which a mob beat a vehicle with fists and a baseball bat.
These little moments reflect the significant rift in the collective American psyche that Mr. Biden sought to begin to close in his speech on Saturday night. With a stand of American flags behind him, he said the time had come to restore the soul of the nation; to adopt the first three words of the Constitution: “We, the people”.
Mr. Biden knows from experience how difficult these simple feelings are to achieve. Another historic moment not long ago – the election in 2008 of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama, with Mr. Biden as vice president – also sparked dancing in the streets. And that too was presented as a unifying healing moment. The feeling did not last.
But Mr Biden has always recognized the need to make the call, once again, for the nation to come together. “It’s time to put hard rhetoric aside,” he said. “To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to yourself again.
His words seemed to speak as much to the individual American as to the nation as a whole, as if to recognize the gaping divisions created. in the tumultuous four years since Mr. Trump’s election.
Friendships are broken. Relationships in the workplace have cooled. Family reunions have been altered by fears that a demand for passage of salt might somehow lead to a political brawl.
In Trump-solid Mercer County, Pa., A retired special education teacher named Beverly Graham, a Democrat, celebrated the big news on Saturday by pouring a glass of whiskey with honey. She drank it in a quiet toast, then tackled the chore of cleaning the bathrooms.
It has been four difficult years for Ms. Graham, with various political disagreements, including with sons who have gone from supporting Mr. Obama to supporting Mr. Trump. Brutal mockery of Democrats – in other words, people like her – on social media by members of her church has been particularly difficult. Their disdain was so vitriolic that she found it difficult to attend Sunday services.
In other words, when people went to church. Before the coronavirus.
“I just don’t think it’s ever going to be the same,” said Ms. Graham, 65. “Because I felt like it was beyond politics. It was personal.
Across Pennsylvania, 300 miles east in Monroe County, a cell phone salesman named Austin Garone said he was exhausted telling an ex-girlfriend to which way he had voted.
They broke up in 2016 because of politics, mainly after voting for Mr. Trump – a choice, he said, that she found incomprehensible. This time around, she had called, texted, and sent long letters to Facebook, all to persuade him not to vote for Mr. Trump anymore.
“People hate Trump so much,” said Garone, 26. “It’s an emotional reaction and they lose their sense of reason.”
He said he told his ex-girlfriend, still a close friend, that he would not vote for Mr. Trump if she could show that he had violated his rights as a bisexual woman.
Mr. Garone ultimately decided that the president had not. But he’s not volunteering for voting for Mr. Trump in 2020.
“If she asks, I’ll tell her,” he said. “But otherwise, I won’t mention it.”
And in Louisville, Kentucky, an attorney by the name of Dustin Meek said she spent a lot of time trying to overcome the political schism between herself, a self-proclaimed Progressive Democrat, and her family in her hometown of ‘Ashland, who supports Trump, 190 miles away. ballast.
“We’re going to start the evening by saying, okay, no political discussion,” said Ms. Meek, 54. “But inevitably a joke will be thrown, or something will happen and people will sting, and honestly, I have to say, it strained relationships.”
“It’s difficult,” she added.
She and her family members don’t even seem to agree on what constitutes a “fact,” she said. They follow right-wing news sites, as she favors more traditional sources of information that Mr. Trump has encouraged his supporters to be wary of.
Ms Meek expressed hope that the less inflammatory rhetoric of a new president would help matters. And she said she wouldn’t allow politics to prevent her from attending future family reunions.
“If some of my family will choose not to attend certain events because my husband and I are there – it is possible,” she said.
Sunday morning, a semblance of serenity returned to Maplewood. Mr. Kurland, a digital designer and musician whose garage speakers had rocked his neighborhood, mowed the lawn. His wife, Ms. Kumar, a psychologist, accompanied the family’s two Black Labradors.
The fact that the President of the United States was tweeting again about a stolen election didn’t bother them. They had already danced for joy in their driveway.
Mike Baker of Seattle contributed reporting; Campbell Robertson of Mercer County, Pennsylvania; Sabrina Tavernise from Monroe County, Pennsylvania; and Will Wright of Louisville, Ky.