WASHINGTON, D.C._ America's political fever finally broke Saturday, sending frustrated and fed-up U.S. voters pouring into city streets across the United States, giddy with unbridled delight at Joe Biden's long-awaited presidential win.
Four days after the election, the all-important battleground state of Pennsylvania finally turned Biden blue, giving the former vice-president the electoral votes needed to put him over the top and deny Donald Trump a second term.
The reaction was spontaneous and almost instant.
On the streets of downtown Washington, D.C., a procession of cars paralyzed traffic around the White House, the din of their horns audible for blocks. Passengers pumped their fists and leaned out car windows to high-five passersby. A motorcyclist looking to join the parade gunned his engine in tribute.
Celebrants on foot crowded by the thousands into the intersection at the edge of Lafayette Square, now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza, which bore witness over the summer to months of raucous and occasionally violent social justice protests.
On this day, the mood was decidedly lighter — a palpable combination of euphoria and disbelief.
""I'm exultant," said Linnea Hamer, a resident of nearby Alexandria, Va., who described laughing and crying at the same time upon hearing the news.
Hamer recalled the crushing disappointment of 2016, when the anticipation of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female U.S president turned to anguish at the prospect of Trump.
"We all thought that Hillary — I mean, she was gonna get it. There was no question, and the polls were showing that," she said.
"And then, I've never felt such despair the day I woke up after that election and realized that the con artist was now the president of this country."
In major urban centres from Los Angeles and Portland to New York and Atlanta, celebrants cheered, danced and slugged champagne straight from the bottle, many of them brandishing Biden placards and flags.
In the mosh pit outside the White House, where physical distancing was impossible but most people were wearing masks, a cheer went up every time a spritz of champagne washed over the crowd.
"We've been waiting for a moment to celebrate for four years," said Derek Summerville, a local D.C. resident just back from a stint volunteering for the Biden campaign in Iowa.
"I don't think we were going to do it until we knew, and once that call was made — I think that's why you're seeing what you're seeing."
The win was a historic one: Biden running mate Kamala Harris, a tough-talking California senator and former prosecutor, is now destined to be the first woman and the first person of colour to occupy the office of the vice-president.
"'The people of this nation have spoken," Biden said in his address to Americans on Saturday night. "They delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for We The People. We've won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of the nation."
Saturday's elation, however, obscured a reality laid bare by the election results: the U.S. remains as divided as it has ever been.
That was clear enough from the scenes in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona throughout the week, where Trump supporters have been protesting in vain against what they consider to be a stolen election.
The results of the vote also make it crystal clear.
Biden may have received the most votes — more than 74 million — of any presidential candidate in U.S. history, but Trump is next on that list, despite four long, chaotic years of divisive dog-whistles, petty recriminations and ham-handed governance.
In 2020 alone, an election year no less, he presided over a pandemic that claimed more than 240,000 American lives, a summer of racial unrest to rival the civil-rights turmoil of the 1960s and the political Kryptonite of a debilitating economic crisis.
Yet legions of his devotees in Detroit, Phoenix and Philadelphia have been crying foul all week, parroting the president's bogus claims that Biden and the Democrats cheated their way to victory.
"America is in a really bad place right now," one Biden supporter in Philadelphia acknowledged Friday, refusing to give her name.
"It's like the point in a relationship where there's a question about whether there can even be a conversation."
Biden, who was scheduled to address the nation Saturday in a prime-time victory speech, tried to salve that open wound Friday.
"We may be opponents, but we're not enemies — we're Americans," he said.
"We're certainly not going to agree on a lot of issues, but at least we can agree to be civil with one another, and put the anger and the demonization behind us."
Most political tacticians would agree that's the right message to deliver, even if it's wishful thinking. But Biden is different, Summerville said.
"The ironic thing is he's one of the few people who I think actually means that," he said. "A lot of us are going to have to do a lot of soul-searching to figure out how to confront it."
The current president has only served to deepen, entrench and legitimize those divisions, primarily for the sake of his own political goals — his efforts to undermine the election results being only the most recent example.
"Undoing that will not happen overnight. We don't trust each other," Summerville said. "We have to say that first, then figure out where we move from there."
Trump and his supporters see legitimate mail-in ballots, which reached record numbers in the face of COVID-19, as part of a fictional conspiracy to commit electoral fraud on an impossible scale.
The sheer number of them — more than 65 million across the country — slowed the process of determining the next U.S. president to a maddening crawl, giving precious oxygen to Trump's bellicose cries of cheating.
"I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!" he bellowed Saturday on Twitter. The social media platform attached a caveat: "Official sources may not have called the race when this was tweeted," it said.
Bridging the gulf in the U.S. will be a monumental job, Hamer admitted. But that's a worry for tomorrow.
"We've got to find common ground, and frankly, I'm not sure where that is right now," she said. "But right now, I just want to be happy — it's been a long time since we can feel good like this."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2020.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press