Watching TV and listening to the radio Saturday morning in the wake of the news that Joe Biden had been declared president-elect after days of counting and waiting was like waking from a fever dream.
Since the vote on Tuesday, you could turn on cable TV any time of day or night and see a full team of anchors and analysts on camera with the big blue and red maps front and center and the headline “Too Close to Call." It was easy to lose track of time, especially with map analysts like MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki rarely leaving their posts.
But Saturday morning when the news on Mr. Biden’s victory was announced, you could feel the fever breaking and a new energy burning through the airwaves.
I was in my car listening to the progressive, public radio station WPFW (89.3 FM in Washington) when the show host cut in to announce that AP had called Pennsylvania for Biden making the former vice president our new president-elect. He further announced that the minute he got off the air, he was heading to the Black Lives Matter Plaza to do some serious celebrating. And that was his lead-in to playing “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang. I don’t know if it was joy in his voice or the opening blast of horns in that familiar track, but as overused as the song has become for moments of celebration, I pulled over and let myself go where the host and the music were taking me. And it felt fine.
The Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington was one of the most favored visuals of cable TV early Saturday afternoon, and it wasn’t just because of the huge crowds, colorful signs and flags and the jubilation of those being interviewed by correspondents.
The intense energy in that space was more than just that of a celebration. It was a liberation. And, in fact, that is the symbolic power generated in coming together in that space near the White House. This is the general area where only a few months earlier, peaceful protesters were tear gassed and hit with rubber bullets and other projectiles to clear a path for President Donald Trump to walk across the street to a park where he could pose for a photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church.
That ugly moment came to symbolize the contempt for civil rights and the First Amendment shown by Mr. Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Along with celebrating the victory of Mr. Biden and Sen Kamala Harris, what happened Saturday in Black Lives Matter Plaza Saturday was also about reclaiming the public spaces of America’s streets for peaceful protesters. It was further a repudiation of authoritarian rule.
CNN, MSNBC, CBS and NBC have been all over the story of the election, the counting and now the victory. Cameras showed huge crowds in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington Square in New York as well Washington on Saturday. Cable brought in their A-teams Saturday with such shows hosts as Jake Tapper on CNN to help guide viewers through all the energy and imagery. The hosts helped viewers understand the significance of what they were seeing. As the screen filled with images of celebration in Black Lives Matter Plaza, Mr. Tapper reminded viewers what had happened in the park across from the White House a few months ago.
“A lot of celebration in a spot where protesters were gassed so President Trump could walk to the church there,” Tapper said.
I remember driving home from The Baltimore Sun late on election night in 2008 after Barack Obama beat John McCain. I was stopped in traffic jams near the University of Baltimore and Morgan State University as students and community members filled the streets, singing, dancing and banging on pots and pans. It was one of the happiest American moments I ever experienced. I felt blessed to be in the middle of it if only for a few minutes.
I only saw the celebrations filtered through a screen Saturday. But I felt some of that same ebullience, hope and joy sitting in front of my TV.
David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.