These words fall on the page in the dreadful time when votes have been cast but the result is unknown.
It could be Biden or Trump for the next four years. The leadership of the world’s largest economy and most powerful global player is still to be determined.
This electoral confusion seems to endlessly surprise. As in the 2000 election, as in four years ago.
Today’s is not quite the same shock as 2016, when it seemed incredible that a candidate so obviously flawed should succeed, but still a thump to the chest that more Americans backed Trump this time than last.
What is clear is that the massed ranks of pundits and pollsters were entertaining, but wrong. American democracy is a huge global story best reported in hindsight.
That may be because we can’t help but report with prejudice. We project an ideal America on to the reality because it matters so much. This is a sure way to disappointment. Or it’s because we can’t quite accept what America has become. A secular nation gripped by Christianity, an equal nation so clearly unequal on race and wealth, a United States divided.
The talk is of a repeat of the 2000 debacle of “hanging chads” in Florida and Supreme Court deliberations. My hunch is this is too simple. The media, wary of Trump’s showmanship, are much less likely to accept declarations of victory, or accusations of trickery.
Civic America will hold out for a result from the ballots, though this may take time.
In 2000, there was also a global pressure from a world who marvelled at the incompetence of America’s voting system.
This time, we are wiser and in no rush to judge. Instead, the story is how we should stop being surprised by America’s decline and realise Europe needs a new ideal. No longer the shining light on the hill, more the warning of darkness to come.
When the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh bought Duane Hanson’s sculpture of two American tourists in the 1970s, we laughed at the fat figures.
Euro envy of our more successful allies. We aren’t laughing now. Pity has replaced envy.
We can stand around feeling offended, outraged and scared for the future, but we’ve done that for four years, and look what it got us. Or we can adjust our expectations of America.
Not fat and dumb, but profoundly different. The “West” is not the homogenous unit implied by the casual use of a compass point. Europe once looked to Washington for leadership. This is over.
If Biden wins on a knife-edge, and without a clear majority on Capitol Hill, he can’t govern with much meaningful effect.
He’ll be in the same sclerosis that’s affected every president since Ronald Reagan. A house divided, bipartisanship despised, not much done.
The same is true if Trump stays. The last four years have been marked by speech bubbles announcing all manner of things, but not much action on the page.
Trump has been the cartoon president, a diverting gag endlessly repeated.
What this means for Europe is that the leadership which helped steer Nato and the UN can no longer be relied upon. Divides always existed between the United States and Europe, but they are wider, more stark.
Diplomatic difference is beginning to look like its own culture war, between the staid social democrats of the Continent and the unhinged radicals of the US.
That puts renewed value, and pressure, on the Franco German leadership of the EU. It is no longer a proto-United States of Europe, not when the US itself is evidently failing, but must become something new. The torch of how to build tolerant, democratic unions has shifted from Washington to Berlin and Paris.
This means Europe needs to find new courage in agendas such as climate change response, globalisation and world peace.
The lesson of American decline is not that the EU is destined to follow, but is morally obliged to succeed if our values are to be protected.
On the environment, a President Biden could stop America leaving the Paris climate accord, but might struggle to reverse the various tax breaks to coal and oil that trump introduced. President Trump would obviously stay on his carbon-burning path.
On globalisation, President Biden might tone down the rhetoric against the rest of the world that has been Trump’s signature, but the forces of protectionism are evidently entrenched in American thinking.
As for peace – who knows? But it would be foolish to rely on America for European security.
We are fascinated by the uncertainty of the election result. As we are horrified by the paucity of ideas, the flaws of the candidates and the chipboard barricades erected on the assumption of violence.
But the story is how we must learn to say goodbye to the America of our dreams, and start again the European ideal of a new world.
Hanson’s sculptures were not meant to be comic caricatures. He was a social realist who used lifelike figures to illustrate how the American ideal had gone astray.
The tourists are confused, lost. America’s decline has been a long time coming. We must stop gawping in surprise and move on.