If Joe Biden wins the presidency next week, America will still need to confront a seemingly impossible question: how to reconcile after the most bitter and polarising election campaign in its history.
All this year, Democrats have been asserting that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy itself. They point to his sabotaging the postal service, his claim that if he loses the election it must have been rigged, and his repeated threat to not abide by the result.
The trouble is that many Republicans themselves believe it is Democrats who are imperilling democracy. They accept Trump's claims that the establishment and "fake news" are conspiring to steal the election from him and so deny the will of the people. Many even believe that Trump is God's chosen one, and that the US is currently locked in a spiritual war of biblical significance.
Commentators are predicting civil unrest whichever candidate wins. But when this unrest dies down, the moral anger animating it will not simply dissipate. It will continue to bubble away in the background or consciousness of whichever community's candidate was defeated. Biden has repeatedly said he will govern for all Americans, that (unlike Trump) he doesn't think of America in terms of "red" and "blue" states. But it is unclear how he could possibly gain the goodwill of the tens of millions of Trump supporters who currently believe him to be public enemy number one, and who will presumably be even more furious with him if he does manage to depose their hero.
Democratic America might transform into one of the happiest and wealthiest societies in modern history. Republicans might quickly realise they had made a dreadful mistake.
One option is for America to give up on any kind of reconciliation, and to try to negotiate a peaceful end to its troubled union. Many Republicans are trying to "take back their country". Perhaps a President Biden should simply give it to them. Democratic states would then be free to pursue progressive agendas unencumbered by Republican lawmakers.
The populations of what were formerly "red" and "blue" states could reshuffle to ensure social and political conflicts within the two new Americas are kept to a minimum. This could be the ultimate test of America's two competing visions.
How would Republican America do without the artistic and cultural contributions of Democratic America, its social welfare provisions for the poor, or its science and innovation to fuel the economy and inspire its people?
Meanwhile, Democratic America might transform into one of the happiest and wealthiest societies in modern history. Republicans might quickly realise they had made a dreadful mistake.
Of course, it is hard to imagine Republicans and Democrats agreeing on any terms of such a divorce. Moreover, there seems something awful about giving up on America in this way. We should be trying to bring the whole world together. If Americans themselves cannot reconcile, what hope is there for the rest of us?
A more feasible option might be for a Biden administration to prioritise reform of the social media echo chambers that seem to have given rise to the current deep divisions within America in the first place. It would be extremely difficult to do this in a way that doesn't further inflame Trump's most ardent supporters. But with suitable co-operation from the media giants who run such platforms, it might not be an impossible mission.
Even if Biden were to succeed in this, America would still have to live with the knowledge of how easy it was for its citizens to become so violently opposed to each other in such a short period of time, and to lose sight of what they have in common. What do Americans have in common with each other when they can so readily be brought into conflict of this most passionate kind?
Whatever happens, Americans will be forced to think long and hard about what it means to be American in the modern era. What did it used to mean? Can this be recaptured or reimagined? Or perhaps there never was a true American identity. Perhaps America will need to take this opportunity to invent a vision for itself, to decide what it is to be.
- Dr Ben Bramble is a lecturer in philosophy at ANU's College of Arts & Social Sciences.