On Saturday evening, hours after America’s rejection of Donald Trump was finally made official, we slipped over to our next door neighbor’s big front porch to share our emotional relief.
It felt as if we were getting our country back.
My wife, Suzy, brought a bottle of celebratory wine. Our neighbors, Janice and Warren Morganstein, strung up a bunch of miniature U.S. flags and brought out an old movie video of Kate Smith. Against background scenes of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, Kate was singing “God Bless America.”
The four of us sat there and listened to her with tears falling down our faces.
Corny, of course. But at that moment, it reminded us of an innocent perception of the country we’d always clung to, which seemed to be disappearing over the past four years of bared-teeth contentiousness.
Then, on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 7, came the announcement that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were officially the winners of the 2020 presidential race.
That’s when the phone started ringing — “Did you hear, did you hear?” — and the television showed streets all over the country filling up with thousands of revelers looking for some way to share their elation.
For the four of us sitting on the Morganstein front porch later that evening, those overflowing streets looked like the closest we’d ever witnessed to America at war’s end. So that’s what it felt like on V-E Day, we thought.
Trump’s war was a different kind of battle than anything we’d ever seen. He declared a war on decency.
What kind of person separates sobbing children from their parents? What kind of person mocks the handicapped? What kind of person sends out signals intended to divide people by skin color and religion in this polyglot nation?
What kind of person tells more than 20,000 documented, provable lies to the whole country and expects to get away with it?
The four of us on the front porch have a few years on us. We aren’t naïve. But we cling to a kind of innocence imparted to us long ago, in an America that gave us a set of values even when the country didn’t always live up to them.
We were born in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, but we went to public schools where our teachers and classmates signaled an America that would never abide such cruelty, that this nation stood foremost for mutual respect and kindness.
We were young elementary school kids when the Supreme Court declared an end to institutionalized racial segregation. And so we went to junior high in a time that felt like a fuller, even more embracing American mix.
We arrived in high school when the nation’s first Catholic, John F. Kennedy, went to the White House. Joe Biden goes there now, and we barely mention his Catholicism. He’s just another American Joe!
And we’ve lived long enough to see the first woman –- a woman of color! –- take her place in that same Oval Office.
At our best, we’ve always been edging toward such moments.
Donald Trump seemed intent on taking us back to a different, crueler time.
America has always had its bigots. But Trump coaxed them out of the darkness. He gave them legitimacy. That’s why his defeat means so much. It isn’t just about politics, it’s about holding on to the American dream of decency and compassion toward each other.
In this post-election moment, it feels like we can still get that America back.
On the morning after our front-porch gathering, I went outside to rake some of the leaves in my front yard. Warren Morganstein strolled over.
“A bright new day,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, glancing at an exhausting spread of leaves waiting to be raked, “except for these damned leaves. They keep falling every year around this time, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” Warren laughed, “but this will cease under a Biden presidency.”
A small joke.
But at moments such as this, at the end of an awful time in America, all things seemed possible.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.