Column: Ready for a brand-new beat

  • Dance Philadelphia: Election 2020, 12-by-12 acrylic on canvas collage by Judith Nichols, director, Artists for Soup (artistsforsoup.org).

  • Bill Nichols. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Published: 11/28/2020 10:10:17 PM
Modified: 11/28/2020 10:10:06 PM

Never a terrific dancer, I still manage to relate with the people who recently danced in the streets after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were called winners in our last election. As my wife, Nancy, and I walked into Hanover on a beautiful, warm Saturday afternoon not long after our granddaughter phoned to say Pennsylvania clinched the election’s outcome, we considered the possibility of cutting a rug on the Green, maybe even busting a move or two.

In addition to feeling the need to express our political joy, we might have been inspired by a video of Kamala Harris dancing in the rain.

But the truth is we soon retired to a bench. Our elation wasn’t as widely shared on the Green as we expected, a feeling that threatened to cook our bliss-filled goose.

Writing in the Sunday Valley News the next day, reporter Alex Hanson noted a mixed reaction on the Green. And like Hanson, we heard skepticism and mistrust in speeches, as well as relief along with celebratory bell-ringing. We saw Biden-Harris signs and others urging the counting of every vote. All this happened, Hanson wrote, “while nearby, students sat and socialized or studied.” And although TV coverage of gatherings around the country showed many enthusiastic celebrants wearing masks, they were not as attentive to the need for social distancing.

That confusing scene prepared us for the days that followed. In addition to the president’s petulance in the face of defeat, supported by other Republican leaders’ silence or half-hearted defense of his right to claim fraud without evidence, there was carping and complaining from Democrats, too.

Much of their grumbling seemed to grow from disappointments about losses in the House and Senate and farther down ballots in states like New Hampshire. Admittedly, I entertained a glum thought or two when I realized “landslide” and “riding coattails” are unlikely to be employed as metaphors when pundits and historians write about the election of 2020.

But you can make a case that we aren’t likely to address effectively the pandemic, climate change or widespread social and economic injustice unless Republicans and Democrats find common ground. Power politics is unlikely to do the job, partly because so much of the power right now resides at the top of the economic ladder.

New Hampshire legislators passed bills that would have addressed some of the challenges we face only to have them vetoed by our Republican governor. Will things go better if bills come to his desk from a Legislature with Republican majorities?

Probably not, you might say. But the political challenges we face in 2020 include an educational test.

Consider what we’ve had to learn about the COVID-19 pandemic in the past several months and the hurdles in the way of our education. While scientists have been studying and teaching about the importance of masks, for example — most recently evidence that masks protect those who wear them as well as others nearby — the man with great power and the biggest bully pulpit in the land has been making fun of them. Worse, he’s been encouraging angry supporters who treat mandated mask-wearing as a violation of their rights. And he appears oblivious to what we’ve learned about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poor communities of color.

Donald Trump’s attempt at a top-down method of governing as an executive, choosing loyalty over expertise and education, may well have influenced New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. But if Joe Biden can encourage a more collaborative approach to leadership in Washington, D.C., governors and other Republican leaders, including New Hampshire legislators, may well start paying attention to the troubling facts about our country’s predicament. They might change their minds about how best to address the daunting challenges we all face.

A new administration that takes truth more seriously than the Trump administration and other Republican politicians have chosen to do could influence Democrats, too. All politicians are likely to face an electorate more well-informed about our shared need to address climate change, reform health care, reduce college debt and economic inequality, advance racial justice, and provide support for police who work in communities where people struggle to survive.

Language sometimes used by progressive Democrats will probably seem less risky with a president who acknowledges that the important services of public schools and libraries, the interstate highway system, the internet, and the U.S. Postal Service, are not results of pure capitalism. The aspirations behind phrases like “Green New Deal,” “Medicare-for-all” and “Black lives matter” might come to be more widely shared.

And as our new vice president, Kamala Harris, who embodies the strength and beauty in a Black life, the great potential in immigration, and the joy in dance, might bring changes that lead more of us to share that joy together in the street.

Bill Nichols lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at Nichols@Denison.edu.




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