It could be a while before the final results of the 2020 elections are known, but it isn't too soon to draw one conclusion: America is a more evenly divided country than many Democrats and Republicans want to think. In the end, there will be winners and losers, but neither side will come away from this election with a ringing popular endorsement, and neither will see its opponents swept away by a tide of righteous revulsion.
Right now, with results awaited in several crucial Midwestern states, the odds seem to favor Joe Biden for the presidency, but the Republicans have a good chance of retaining control of the Senate, and the widely expected influx of new Democrats to the House isn't happening. No landslide, no "winning big." It's a close race.
President Donald Trump, as feared, is already complaining that the election has been rigged. That's wrong and dangerous, though unfortunately true to type. The country should be patient as the final votes are counted. There'll doubtless be legal challenges, and it's possible the final result will be decided in the courts. So be it. Neither party should call legal challenges lodged by the other side an attempt to "steal" the election. In a sadly convoluted and contested vote-counting process, the courts sometimes have to get involved, and there's nothing illegitimate about recourse to the law.
This time, the convolutions, litigation and groundless accusations will have to be endured — but next time, it's to be hoped that this risk might be reduced. Voting systems should be mended: Protracted delays in counting simply shouldn't happen. Polling and focus groups need work as well, or at any rate should be viewed more skeptically. In failing to capture the complexity of public sentiment, they can feed false expectations, arouse mutual suspicion and cloud people's judgment.
After the challenge of navigating this period of uncertainty will come the even more demanding test of living with the outcome. Both sides, winners and losers alike, need to reflect on what it means to lead a country that's so closely divided.
Optimists might call for compromise and accommodation, favoring these as conducive to good government and ends in themselves. Even hard-bitten partisans who see compromise as surrender should see value in understanding their opponents. Many Democrats are shocked that the blue wave didn't happen; many Republicans find it hard to believe that Trump didn't romp to victory. Those competing certainties are a measure not just of wishful thinking but also of separation and mutual incomprehension.
If you're in politics, failure to understand the other side is not something to be proud of — least of all when the other side is half the country. That's worth thinking about as the votes are tallied.
This editorial was written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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