One very important thing — maybe the most important thing — changed in American politics this week. But several other important things seem to have stayed the same.
So Justin Trudeau and millions of other Canadians can now look forward to relaxing a bit come January 20, when Joe Biden is expected to be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States — notwithstanding the recent fuss and fury from the 45th president and whatever else the incumbent might try to do to protest this result over the next two months.
But neither Trudeau, nor anyone who aspires to be prime minister at some point in the foreseeable future, can allow themselves to believe that the last four years were just a strange aberration.
The implicit promise of Biden’s candidacy was a return to normalcy — or at least to the way things were before Donald Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower in New York and launched his candidacy for president with a speech that promised to build a wall along the American border with Mexico to keep “drugs,” “crime” and “rapists” from entering the United States.
WATCH | Biden supporters celebrate in Pennsylvania:
After four years of panic, a little peace
As far as Canada is concerned, Biden should be able to fulfill that promise. For at least the next four years, there should be no reason to worry about what the American president might tweet. There should be no reason to think he might try to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement on a whim or launch a trade war premised on the idea that Canadian-made aluminum presents a national security threat to the United States.
It’s unlikely that Biden will throw a public tantrum if Trudeau publicly disagrees with him at an international summit — or that one of Biden’s senior advisers will condemn Trudeau to hell for doing so. It’s hard to imagine Biden would call Trudeau and rant about how much he dislikes Chrystia Freeland and refer to her as a “nasty woman” — as Trump did during a phone call in June 2018.
“It is as difficult a moment as we have ever faced as a country,” Bob Rae, now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote that same month, at the height of this country’s battle with the Trump administration over a new trade deal.
It’s also possible that Canada will be able to count on a better response to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least after January 20 — and the United States getting itself in order would surely help Canada’s recovery.
WATCH | Biden and Trump supporters in Atlanta react to Biden win:
What Trumpism did for Trudeau
There are any number of things that Donald Trump might still try to do between now and January 20. But Trudeau can take comfort from the fact that he and Canada seem to have gotten through these last four years with modest injuries. The time and energy the Trudeau government previously spent thinking about Donald Trump can now be put towards literally anything else.
It might also be argued that the Trump years gave new purpose and relevance to the political project Trudeau started when he ran for leadership of the Liberal party in 2012. The election of a populist nationalist who campaigned on xenophobia, provoked racial division and denied the science of climate change put into stark relief a Liberal agenda that promised to pursue economic inclusion, lower greenhouse gas emissions, diversity and pluralism.
Trudeau might have benefited politically from that contrast. But historians also might judge him now on how well he navigated what feels like a pivot point for the future of liberal democracy.
Trudeau will now (and once again) have an American president whose stated worldview is broadly similar to his own. They will not agree on everything. The Keystone XL pipeline might die again. Softwood lumber seems destined to be a bilateral issue forever. But Canada should have a more helpful ally with whom he can readily cooperate.
Biden is likely to restore many of the environmental regulations that the Trump administration rolled back and rejoin the Paris accord on climate change. The United States presumably will now recommit to the world’s other multilateral institutions — or at least stop trying to tear them down. Biden might still promote “Buy American” policies, but he’s unlikely to target this country in a trade war.
WATCH | What Canada can expect from a Biden presidency:
A nation at odds with itself
But the verdict that American voters have delivered is not a wholesale repudiation of the last four years.
Biden’s advantage in the popular vote likely will surpass that of Hilary Clinton in 2016. He will have flipped at least a few states that voted for Trump four years ago. When all the ballots are counted, Biden’s victory probably will look not insignificant — on par perhaps with Barack Obama’s win over Mitt Romney in 2012. And Biden now becomes one of the few candidates in recent American history to defeat a one-term incumbent.
But this was not a landslide. Biden’s margin of victory is unlikely to match Obama’s breakthrough in 2008 and it will fall well short of historic blowouts like Ronald Reagan’s triumph over Walter Mondale in 1984 or Lyndon Johnson’s defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Control of the Senate remains up in the air, though the final standings will depend on run-off elections in Georgia.
After everything that has happened over the last four years, that might seem astounding. But this election result confirms that the United States is not the country it was in 1964 or 1984. It is profoundly polarized — so much so that not even the deaths of more than 225,000 Americans in a public health emergency could crush the incumbent’s support.
A Republican-controlled Senate would make it much harder for Biden to implement his campaign commitments and might completely forestall any meaningful political reform. But the larger result is evidence that the forces that created a Trump presidency will not go away easily.
And now, because the result is close enough, Trump and his campaign are doing everything they can to cast doubt on the process — an effort that could do untold damage to America’s institutions and social fabric.
The next four years might be quieter — at least for Canadians.
But there will be another presidential election four years from now. Canadians can’t assume that someone like Donald Trump won’t become president again, with everything that entails for continental trade, the global order and American democracy.
WATCH | How he got here: The life and politcal career of Joe Biden:
A Gathering Political Storm Hits Georgia, With Trump on the Way – The New York Times
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ATLANTA — Some of the biggest names in national politics jumped into the fiercely contested runoffs for two Georgia Senate seats on Friday, even as a second recount showed that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had maintained his lead in the state and Republicans braced for a visit by President Trump, who has railed against his loss there with baseless claims of fraud.
With Mr. Trump set to campaign for the two Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence and former President Barack Obama held dueling events to underscore the vital stakes in the special elections: If both Republicans are defeated, control of the Senate will shift to Democrats just as Mr. Biden moves into the Oval Office.
Mr. Obama appeared virtually at a turn-out-the-vote event for Jon Ossoff, the Democrat facing Mr. Perdue, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ms. Loeffler’s opponent, and spoke of his frustration in seeing his initiatives blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate when he was in office. “If the Senate is controlled by Republicans who are interested in obstruction and gridlock, rather than progress and helping people, they can block just about anything,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Pence — with Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler by his side — received a Covid-19 briefing at the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said later at a rally for the Republican candidates that “we’re going to save the Senate, and then we’re going to save America.”
A second recount of the presidential vote in Georgia has finished, according to the Secretary of State website, showing Mr. Biden ahead by about 12,000 votes with 100 percent of the counties reporting.
New campaign financial reports filed late Thursday showed a staggering influx of money into the state in the first days of runoffs that were expected to set spending records, with more than $300 million booked in television, radio and digital ads, according to data from AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. Media buyers said the price of ads was soaring, especially for super PACs, to unseen heights.
The Senate races are playing out at a hyperpartisan moment in American politics that has led to a civil war among Georgia Republicans divided over whether to support Mr. Trump as he persists with false assertions that the election was stolen from him. In Georgia and elsewhere, the president’s lawyers remain engaged in a failing, last-minute effort to throw the election to Mr. Trump.
Even as he tweeted this week that he wanted “a big David and Kelly WIN,” Mr. Trump called Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor, “hapless” for failing to work to overturn the election results, while also criticizing Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His sustained assault on Georgia’s voting system prompted an extraordinary rebuke this week from another high-ranking elections official, who warned of violent threats against poll workers and publicly pleaded with the president to cool down his conspiratorial rhetoric.
On Friday, State Senator Elena Parent, a Democrat on the judiciary subcommittee, which met on Thursday, said that she had been the target of violent, anonymous threats that appeared on a public internet chat room.
The president’s appearance in Valdosta, near the Florida border, on Saturday evening comes after a concerted campaign by his advisers and Republican lawmakers to convince him that his presence is vital to increasing turnout among his supporters. Initially reluctant, the president agreed to hold the rally after being told that victories by the Republican Senate candidates would help prove his contention that his own win in Georgia was stolen from him, according to aides familiar with the conversations.
But some Republicans in Georgia and Washington are fearful that Mr. Trump will go off-script, and potentially attack Mr. Kemp or Mr. Raffensperger. Party officials also worry that the president’s claims of fraud could backfire, undermining turnout by convincing Republican voters that the special elections are rigged against them anyway.
L. Lin Wood, a lawyer and Republican supporter of Mr. Trump, and Sidney Powell, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits on the president’s behalf, urged Georgians Wednesday not to vote “unless your vote is secure.”
That same day, a number of prominent Georgia Republicans, including former Gov. Nathan Deal, signed an open letter in which they warned that “the debate surrounding the state’s electoral system has made some within our party consider whether voting in the coming runoff election matters.”
The leaders said that the party needed to focus on winning the two Senate seats, or risk turning the Senate over to a Democratic Party that “wishes to fundamentally alter the fabric of our nation into something unrecognizable.”
Some senior Republicans in Washington are doing little to hide their concern about the damage that they believe Mr. Wood and Ms. Powell are inflicting.
“It’s encouraging the president is going down there to rally the troops, because I know there’s some inconsistent messages being sent to his base supporters,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
Chip Lake, a Georgia-based Republican strategist who most recently worked for Representative Doug Collins — who unsuccessfully vied in November for Ms. Loeffler’s Senate seat — said Friday that Mr. Trump was facing “one of the biggest political speeches the president’s ever had to make, because the stakes are that high.”
“If we have any portion of our base that might decide to boycott this election for any reason whatsoever, then we might be handing over the Senate to Democratic control,” Mr. Lake said.
Although a hand-recount of the state’s five million votes reaffirmed that Mr. Biden had indeed won the Georgia election, Mr. Trump’s campaign demanded a second machine recount. Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta and is the state’s most populous, certified its results on Friday. As of Friday evening, state election officials had not responded to queries about when they would officially announce the results of the recount or recertify Mr. Biden as the winner.
The urgency of the senate races was reflected in the huge amounts of money pouring into the four campaigns in recent weeks: about $187 million just in online donations from Oct. 15 to Nov. 23, according to federal records from the donation-processing sites ActBlue and WinRed.
In that 40-day period, both Democratic challengers out-raised their Republican opponents every day from online contributions and surpassed the previous Senate fund-raising record for a full quarter. Mr. Warnock raised $63.3 million in online donations and Mr. Ossoff raised $66.4 million.
In that time, the two Republicans raised $58.2 million.
But well-heeled Republicans have erased much of the Democrats’ financial advantage with giant donations to a super PAC that raised $70 million in less than three weeks from a who’s who of Republican megadonors, including Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone ($15 million) and Ken Griffin of Citadel ($12 million). The media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave $1 million, as did his son, Lachlan, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation.
Ms. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, put $23 million of her own money into her campaign to get to the runoff and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, has donated an additional $10 million to a pro-Loeffler super PAC.
Big contributions from Democratic donors are lagging the Republicans. The leading Senate Democratic super PAC raised a little more than $10 million in the 20 days after the general election, records show. The biggest donation — $2.5 million — came from the organization that Stacey Abrams created, Fair Fight, after her narrow loss in 2018 for the governor’s race.
As Ms. Abrams’s star power has increased, Fair Fight itself has emerged as a major magnet for Democratic giving, pulling in nearly $35 million in 40 days that ended Nov. 23. Ms. Abrams, widely credited with leading the Democratic renaissance in Georgia, also appeared in the virtual rally on Friday for the two Democratic candidates.
“We won this election decisively, and, despite the number of recounts, it keeps giving us the same answer: that Georgia Democrats showed up, that Georgians showed up and that we decided that we wanted to move this nation in the right direction,” Ms. Abrams said.
Mr. Ossoff voiced a major theme that both Democratic candidates were seeking to exploit: allegations that Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue benefited from questionable stock trades as they learned about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re running against, like, the Bonnie and Clyde of political corruption in America, who represent politicians who put themselves over the people,” he said. Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have denied any inappropriate financial dealings.
On Friday, Mr. Pence rallied on behalf of Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue in Savannah, where he warned that Democrats would advance a liberal, big-government agenda if they were allowed to seize control of the Senate.
“If you don’t vote, they win,” Mr. Pence told the small but enthusiastic crowd at the Savannah airport. “If you don’t vote, there could be nothing to stop Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi from cutting our military, raising taxes and passing the agenda of the radical left.”
Mr. Pence was joined at the airport by Mr. Perdue but not Ms. Loeffler, who returned to Atlanta after a young man on her campaign staff was killed on Friday afternoon in a traffic accident.
Before the rally, Mr. Pence attended the C.D.C. briefing with the Republican candidates, saying the nation is facing a “challenging time” but also “a season of hope,” with the likely approval of the first coronavirus vaccine coming as soon as next week.
Sheryl Stolberg, Jonathan Martin and Rachel Shorey contributed reporting.
Public Health Workers In Kansas Walk Away Over Pressure From Pandemic Politics – NPR
In July, Nick Baldetti resigned as director of the Reno County Health Department in Kansas.
But it wasn’t the 80-hour workweeks that drove him to quit, it was the hostile political environment and threats to Baldetti’s family.
“I had the local police watching my house because my family was home and I was not,” said Baldetti, who also served as the department’s health officer. “There was a period of time that I had escorts to and from work.”
Baldetti spent years preparing to deal with a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. He never imagined that when the moment arrived, he would encounter such antagonism for simply doing his job.
“By the end of the day, you just felt like you were on an island by yourself,” he said. “Whatever decision I made, 50% of people were going to be upset because it was too ‘restrictive’ and the other 50% were going to be upset because it wasn’t restrictive enough.”
Baldetti’s story isn’t unique. The pressure of dealing with the pandemic and the politics surrounding it has triggered an exodus of public health workers in Kansas.
In the nine months since the state’s first documented coronavirus infection, 27 county health officials have left their posts. Some retired, but others resigned or were fired.
The same pressures are thinning the ranks of local public health officials across the country. Many are leaving because they’ve been physically threatened or “politically scapegoated” for doing their jobs, Lori Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told NPR.
Frustration, fear and fatigue
Gianfranco Pezzino recently announced that after 14 years as the health officer of the Shawnee County Health Department, he would step down at the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of burnout, anger and frustration,” Pezzino said.
A doctor and public health researcher, Pezzino said months of battling county commissioners over how to contain the coronavirus had worn him out.
“I’m tired emotionally, I’m tired physically,” Pezzino said. “I don’t think I have the energy … to do another year like this.”
The amount of misinformation spread on social media — much of it emanating from the White House — politicized the nation’s response to the pandemic, Pezzino said.
“If there had been a unified message coming down from the federal government to the state and local levels,” he said, “it would have been much easier for everybody.”
Mask mandate backlash
Jennifer Bacani McKenney is also tired and frustrated. Nevertheless, she’s fighting to stay on as the health officer in rural Wilson County.
McKenney, a doctor, grew up in Fredonia, the county seat. She returned about a decade ago to join her father’s medical practice.
Initially, she said, citizens of the county in the southeast part of the state embraced orders issued by Gov. Laura Kelly and the county health department aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Those orders sequestered people in their homes and closed schools and some businesses.
“That first probably two months we were everybody’s best friend,” McKenney said. “We were here to take care of you.”
But support for those policies eroded as the number of unemployed Kansans grew to levels not seen since the Great Recession. Republican legislative leaders responded by reining in Kelly’s emergency powers and those of local health officials.
As the political debate grew more heated — nationally and in Kansas — hostility toward public health officials, like McKenney, increased.
She got threatening emails and was the target of personal attacks on social media.
“It hurts your heart, it really does,” McKenney said. “It’s not only that people are mean, it’s that you’ve lost friends. Relationships are broken.”
During the worst of it, McKenney said, she often sat alone in her office and cried after seeing her last patient of the day.
“There’s nothing else to do,” she said.
Andy Miller, a Wilson County commissioner, said McKenney brought some of the criticism on herself by disparaging President Trump’s handling of the pandemic in social media posts.
“When you start getting political,” Miller said, “you’ve created a storm.”
When that happens, he said, the attacks run both ways.
“I’ve probably got a dozen emails or so that are just, ‘it’s either a mask [mandate] or you’re a killer,’ ” he said. “There’s no in between.”
Early last month, commissioners rejected McKenney’s proposal for a mask mandate. But as COVID-19 cases in the county and across the state surged and Kelly reiterated her call for a statewide policy, they agreed to consider a compromise.
Most of the people who showed up for a public hearing opposed the mandate as an assault on their personal liberty.
“My fear doesn’t happen to be the COVID virus but the overreach of national and state officials who believe because of their positions or ego that their opinions are fact,” said Charles Fox, a Fredonia veterinarian.
Donovan Hutchinson, the bar owner in nearby Neodesha, said giving in to a mask mandate would lead to further abuses of government power.
“What will they come after next, our guns, our children?” he said.
When it became apparent that the commission was ready to approve a 30-day mask mandate as a compromise several people walked out in protest.
Like other public health officials, McKenney is tired and discouraged. But she said she’s not going to quit.
“That’s not me,” she said. “I can’t have this knowledge and ability to help people and just walk away.”
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
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