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A Day That Settled an Election and Brought Hope for Defeating a Pandemic

Not everyone was quite ready to write off the tumult of 2020, which has been marked by the deadliest pandemic in a century, the most cataclysmic economic collapse since the Great Depression, the worst racial strife since the civil rights era and the most divisive and contested aftermath to an election since shortly after the Civil War. Some were not sure a corner had really been turned.

“It’s a good day,” said Jill Lepore, the prominent Harvard scholar who has written sweeping books on American history. “But these last years, it has often felt as though the country is falling down an empty well. You keep thinking, OK, finally, we’ve hit bottom, and can begin trying to crawl our way up and out. But then you realize, we haven’t hit bottom; we’re just on a ledge, and then we start falling all over again. A few weeks ago, it seemed like the bottom. And today, maybe someone has sent down a rope. Two ropes! Hard to trust, though.”

It is only in that context that such normally prosaic acts as a nurse giving someone a shot and electors casting votes become so noteworthy. With America having failed so miserably at controlling the virus, which is now at or near records in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the mere promise of a vaccine had television news crews tracking trucks delivering the miracle doses as they began making their way across the country.

The Electoral College has never merited wall-to-wall coverage before either. What is typically a ministerial process simply translating the Election Day results into 538 votes divided among the states and the District of Columbia became a daylong event for CNN and MSNBC — CNN even had a graphic at the bottom of its screen tabulating the votes as they came in as if there were any actual suspense.

But it is still a polarized country. Over at Fox News, even as California sealed the victory for Mr. Biden, the hosts were busy instead hashing through the latest in the investigation of his son Hunter Biden, although some of them did refer to his father as the “president-elect.”

The new president-to-be sought to ignore that and to focus on the day’s events. Even as Mr. Trump remained cloistered in the White House, Mr. Biden emerged to try to pivot the country forward. “Now it’s time to turn the page, as we’ve done throughout our history,” he said. “To unite. To heal.”

At least for one day.

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