A divided nation asks: What's holding the US together

A divided nation asks: What's holding the US together

Representative image. Credit: AFP Photo

Elections are meant to resolve arguments. This one inflamed them.

Weeks after the votes have been counted and the winners declared, many Americans remain angry, defiant and despairing. Millions now harbor new grievances borne of President Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.

Many Democrats are saddened by results that revealed the opposition to be far more powerful than they imagined.

And in both groups there are those grappling with larger, more disquieting realizations: The foundations of the American experiment have been shaken - by partisan rancor, disinformation, a president's assault on democracy and a deadly coronavirus pandemic. There is a sense of loss.

It burdens even the winners. In North Carolina, a soon-to-be state lawmaker whose victory made history says he is struck by how little feels changed. In Michigan, a suburban woman found her feminism in the Trump era only to see her family torn by the election outcome.

In a Pennsylvania town, the simple things still feel fraught. Plans for a small-town Christmas market spiralled into a bruising fight over public health and politics.

"What is holding our country together?" wonders Charisse Davis, a school board member in the Atlanta suburbs, where the election has not ended. A pair of Senate runoffs on Jan. 5 will decide which party controls the US Senate.

Davis may get her answer soon. A vaccine has brought hope and a chance for a nation to approve it can do big things again. New leadership in Washington may change the tone.

But now, at the end of 2020, many Americans say the experiences of the past four years have made them look at their neighbours - and their country - in a different light.

It's been a tumultuous few months for Ricky Hurtado. The 32-year-old son of Salvadoran immigrant won a seat in the North Carolina state legislature as a Democrat representing a suburban slice of Alamance County.

Hurtado's wife, Yazmin Garcia, earned her US citizenship six days before the election. The couple drove directly from the immigration office where she became a citizen to the nearest early voting site, so she could register on the spot and cast a ballot for her husband.

But Hurtado still can't shake the feeling that, despite all this, little changed. He'd hoped to be part of a Democratic wave that took back his state legislature, hold seats on the state Supreme Court and the US Senate. Instead, Democrats fell short in all those efforts. Trump won North Carolina just as he did in 2016.

"The election certainly makes it feel like Alamance and North Carolina voted for the status quo," Hurtado said.

"It feels like we haven't moved in any given direction."

"I won, but as a citizen of North Carolina who's deeply invested in North Carolina, I feel like I lost."

The win made Hurtado the first Latino Democrat ever elected to the state legislature.

After the election, he was flooded with texts and in-person congratulations from well-wishers, including one immigrant mother at an event who told him: "For you to win here, in Alamance County, is so important for my children."

Still, Hurtado is struggling to understand how there was a shift among Latinos toward Trump in the election. The president's strong performance with Cuban Americans in South Florida narrowed the traditional Democratic edge in Miami-Dade County and helped put Florida in Trump's column.

In Texas, Trump won tens of thousands of new supporters in predominantly Mexican American communities along the border. It didn't shock Hurtado. Political opinions are shaped by more than family heritage, race or gender or political party.

"It shows you, your identities are complex," he said.

In the Pennsylvania college town of Slippery Rock, population 3,600, the annual Christmas market was supposed to be the bright spot in a dismal year.

Republican Mayor Jondavid Longo donated his salary - USD 88 a month after taxes - to help pay for the market that drew 25 vendors and 500 people. He hoped the outdoor event would bring holiday cheer and a much-needed injection of cash to the town's struggling businesses.

Perhaps, he figured, a cozy event would also drown out any bitter feelings about the presidential election and the pandemic. But neither politics nor the pandemic could be escaped.

Things began to devolve on Twitter. Photos surfaced showing few people in masks, leading to criticism that the event might have spread the novel coronavirus.

The mayor said his critics were Democrats and that he believed the market did little in terms of infection. Critics could note that the death toll from the pandemic in rural Butler County has jumped more than four-fold since the Nov. 3 election to roughly 170 people.

"We were outside so I thought things were reasonable," Longo said.

"COVID was only an issue for individuals who were trying to stoke the flames of fear and discontent."

Trump won Butler County handily in November, evidence of his campaign to supercharge turnout in rural, conservative places as he cedes ground in the cities and suburbs. It wasn't enough to win Pennsylvania - or other industrial swing states - as President-elect Joe Biden's campaign also managed to motivate even more hard-to-reach voters.