James Merrill looks toward the head of the line while waiting to cast his ballot at the Portland Expo on Nov. 3. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Elana Rabinowitz is a freelance writer and English as a second language teacher in Brooklyn, New York. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

When enough votes were counted to call the presidential race for Joe Biden, one truth remained self-evident: our country is completely divided. But as a lifelong Democrat, I see reasons to be optimistic.

First off, I want to thank the Republicans who voted in this election. It is our right as American citizens — a right women were once excluded from, a right minorities have often been denied access to and a right gained by the immigrants who built this country. And this year, the people voted in historic numbers.

I found myself among the majority who favored Biden and Kamala Harris over Donald Trump and Mike Pence. But I know that this majority included a fair number of people who usually vote Republican. Even though they would rather see Republican policies be implemented, they voted against Trump.

Yet I am still surprised that, after all the harm that Trump has caused, almost half of the nation pardoned him. Nearly a quarter of a million people — so far — have died on his watch from the COVID-19 pandemic he refused to take seriously.

He made lewd and degrading comments about women and disparaging remarks about those who serve in the military. He lied, he cheated, he is even now seeking to subvert the will of the people as expressed in this election. But tens of millions of Americans stand by him still.

It’s easy to make politics a game. Whose side are you on? It’s easy to be in a room where everybody agrees with you. But, if that was always the case, we’d become boring and stuck.

I, for one, love learning from the perspectives of others. Unlikely friendships are the most beautiful. Like that of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a conservative and liberal who found a middle ground in the affection they felt for each other.

When Biden becomes president, he will not magically fix our country, but the country will be changed. We will welcome the first woman and first woman of color to the White House as vice president. Surely, there is reason for all of us to celebrate that.

We have too much to address as a nation to remain pitted against each other in bitter strife. The economy is still reeling from COVID-19, which will likely claim tens of thousands of more American lives before it is done. Surely, that is something we can join together to fight.

One word comes to mind to save us: empathy. The concept of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Trying to understand just where they are coming from. We can’t ignore other points of view simply because they are not in alignment with our own. But where do you start? It’s hard to bypass racism and cults and pure hatred.

I did not grow up in a house of Republicans. I grew up with certain values and privileges that allow me to think a certain way. But I can no longer ignore the half of the country that thinks differently. I need to understand them. Empathize with them. And desperately try to move forward. Together. We are, after all, the United States.