Here is what happened, in summary and plain language.
The evening started out with a fun and excited vibe. States were being called for Hillary Clinton; states were being called for Donald Trump. Things began to trend for Trump, and then the trend seemed to steamroll. Grim pundits began to discuss “what Hillary needed to do, but didn’t.” The election seemed like it would be a done deal by midnight.
And then, suddenly all the calls stopped. State by state (and county by county) vote analysis abruptly ended, and the cameras switched to the pundits, who talked and talked, and never said anything definitive.
But no more states were called. “It’s so close,” said pundits. “Too close to call.” That seemed reasonable for a while. And then, when 99% of districts were reported, and reasonable people expected that calls could be made, they still went unmade.
Trump stood at 257 electoral votes — either candidate needed 270 to win. At 1:39 AM, the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Trump, which (holding 20 electoral votes) should have ended the evening, yet it continued.
It felt like the election had been put on pause, thrown into a holding pattern, without explanation. Pundits began to grumble between themselves at the unprecedented situation. A few conceded that, were the situation reversed, the contest would have been called, or the Trump campaign would have been excoriated for holding things up.
At the Jacob Javits Center, in New York City, John Podesta came out to tell the Clinton campaign supporters to go home; that “the votes are still being counted.”
On CNN, Democrat analyst Van Jones, hearing the frustration of a Trump-supporting pundit, leaned over to him and said, “Listen, you won.” He went on to ask, “Where is the grace going to come from? Tomorrow, in the workplace and where people are meeting — it [the grace] will have to come from the people.” He seemed to imply that Mrs. Clinton was simply not up to making a concession speech.
And so, people headed to bed dreading the possibility that the nation was once again about to be held hostage to hanging chads and recounts — something we quite possibly could not have withstood.
Then, at 2:40 AM, CNN’s Dana Bash announced that a Clinton spokesperson confirmed that — while Hillary would not be speaking in public — she had conceded her defeat in a phone call to Trump.
Stunning, and again, unprecedented. But sometimes people can’t do something in the best moment, and they need to have another moment or two — or another day — before they can live up to a thing. And it’s a grace note to be able to acknowledge that sort of human weakness as, simply, human.
So, we should, because Van Jones’ question was a good one: where will the grace come from? Grace must have an ascendant moment in this country, if it is to ever take hold and grow. We need it.
As I write this, Trump has begun to address his crowd, and he seems to be offering the grace-note, too. Offering thanks and compliments to Hillary Clinton, he said, “Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division…it is time for us to come together as one united people. I pledge…that I will be president for all Americans.” To his detractors, he said, “I am reaching out to you for your guidance and your help, so that we can work together and unify for the sake of the country.”
It is very late. The nation has suffered through a terrible election season, but tonight — this morning — we see the first act that continues our tradition of peaceful transition, and thank you, Secretary Clinton, for that. Tonight — this morning — we hear the first words of outreach and unity. Thank you, President-elect Trump, for that. We needed this from both of you, no matter who won.
It’s time for sleep; it’s time for a little rest.