As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to be sworn in under an extraordinary security threat, his supporters are watching with mixed, and often conflicting, emotions.
Interviews with five Biden voters in different states revealed a maelstrom of relief and fury, elation and devastation, delight and exasperation. Many are grappling with reconciling their intense feelings of anger at President Donald Trump and some of his supporters over their roles in the violent riot on Capitol Hill with the joy that their candidate won — and that he is finally on the verge of taking office.
Others are experiencing the events of the last two weeks through a more political lens, struggling to embrace Biden’s push for unity while preferring that he undertake deep, structural change on a myriad of issues. Some expressed fear for Biden’s life and for the voters of color who supported Biden and whose pivotal votes Trump and his allies have sought to undermine.
All of these voters, first interviewed by NBC News before the Nov. 3 election, cast their ballots for Biden, some for very different reasons. Here’s what they’re thinking, fearing and feeling now, just ahead of Inauguration Day.
‘It feels like his life is under threat’: Keara Skates, 20, Atlanta
“We thought the hard part was the election, specifically with turning Georgia blue,” said Skates, a sophomore at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “Then we thought the hard part was the runoffs. But the really hard part is now it’s that we have to now wonder, ‘Will Biden be alive in order to even be sworn in?’
“Truthfully, I worry, because it feels like his life is under threat, with Trumpers being so overzealous and clearly willing to get so aggressive, despite touting the idea of law and order,” she added.
“I think because Trump does have enough people on his side, they’re going to be pissed off for a long time. I’m concerned specifically for minorities, for retaliatory violence against minorities and marginalized groups,” said Skates, who is Black.
“I’m feeling anxiety about it. But I’m also feeling that we did the hard things before, and we can do them again.”
‘No choice but to be hopeful’: John Gilbert, 71, Iowa Falls, Iowa
“This whole year has been kind of dreamlike,” said Gilbert, who runs a family-owned farm. “You keep thinking maybe you’ll wake up and realize it was all just a nightmare. But that hasn’t happened so far. That said, I’m of the opinion that you have to have a lot of optimism going forward, because anything is going to be better than what we’ve had.
“The fact that 70-some million drank Trump’s Kool-Aid — I live amongst a lot of them, and I still have no comprehension of what it is they see in him — that he’s been able to delude and mislead so many people, it just boggles my mind,” he added.
“I’m not sure how people get so misled, or maybe it’s that they’re so intent on believing what they want to believe anyway so that they just cannot see reality, which bothers me even more, but going forward, even with all of that, we really have no choice but to be hopeful,” said Gilbert, who is white.
“There are so many challenges facing the country right now that it’s at the point where you don’t even know where to start. But obviously, the pandemic is the highest priority, followed by what happened the other day [in the U.S. Capitol], and I can say safely that Biden is going to handle both better than Trump. Anything is going to be an improvement. We have to be optimistic, have to hope, as Gerald Ford said, that the long national nightmare is over.”
‘Concerns about how much will actually change’: Nicole Small, 38, Detroit
“While I am absolutely elated that Trump is officially going to be out of office soon, I do have some concerns about how much will actually change with Biden as president,” said Small, a human resources worker in Detroit and vice chair of the commission that considers revisions to the city’s charter.
“I do know this administration will act presidential, compared to what we’ve experienced the last four years, but as far as the real changes that are needed, well, I’m curious and concerned about what that will look like. Will they push the George Floyd bill? What will their police reform look like? What are their plans to make sure there are serious repercussions for the people who won’t stop engaging in violence, like the domestic terrorists who got into the Capitol?” said Small, who is Black.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am still very happy, there is a sense of relief that Biden is about to be sworn in as our president,” she said. “But I have some concerns, and I’m cautious over how fully enthusiastic I will be about the administration.”
‘Cautiously optimistic’: Tommy George, 63, Charlotte, N.C.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m not happy with some of his Cabinet picks so far. I would have liked to see a little bit more from the progressive wing of the party, but that’s OK, because it’s 100 percent better than what we’ve had,” said George, the owner of specialty foods company. “He promised all this change, but I know, especially after the events last week, he needs to take it a bit slower.
“The pendulum needs to swing, but I understand that it needs to swing gradually and that reaching compromises over policy will be a big part of that,” he added.
George, who is white, initially supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president before Biden won the Democratic Party’s nomination.
“I really commend Biden for the way he’s handled the riots. He hasn’t stoked the fire. He’s been talking about unity and calming things down, but yes, it’s hard for me to reconcile my desire for big progressive change with calls for unity with the same people who helped cause all this violence in the first place,” he said.
“But you know, when it comes to Biden calling for unity, what is the alternative? We really need to come together before anything can change. But things do have to change.”
‘Quite hopeful’: Maureen Kelly, 61, Charlotte, N.C.
“I’m actually feeling quite hopeful,” said Kelly, an airline company stock clerk.
“I know there are huge divisions in the country, and I know there is a lot of fear and anxiety. But I’m feeling relief and hope, really just from the fact that there will be such a change in language and style from our current commander-in-chief,” said Kelly, who is white.
“I just see Trump’s whole style as negative and ugly and bullying,” she said. “And to go from that to someone who isn’t tweeting all the time, who isn’t attacking people, who is accepting and kind and wants to work together with other people and the other party, who isn’t constantly saying nasty things, that in and of itself is a huge change for the better.”