I think that it’s true that this election is a big deal. It will have a major impact on the direction of U.S. policy for the next decade, at least. It will likely have a major impact on the shape of the Republican party. If Trump loses, Trumpism will (hopefully) collapse. If he wins, then it will likely have a longer life.
But we’re almost certainly not going to know the results tonight. Early counts will not be conclusive. Any early calls are unlikely to be correct, since there will be so many mail-in ballots to count. Some states will have fairly conclusive results to report tonight, but most won’t. Some states will take days and even weeks to count them all. If the race is close, that means it will take a while to know who wins.
Another factor will be legal challenges. President Trump and the Republican party have been filing many lawsuits to restrict the counting of ballots. Democrats have been defending those counts or filing their own lawsuits to expand the availability of ballots. The outcome of these lawsuits could affect the outcome in some states.
The final factor is how willing everyone is to accept the vote counts. President Trump questioned the accuracy of the vote count in the election he won. He’s been raising the specter of voter fraud for years, claiming that if he loses, it’s because Democrats cheated. Many of the other leaders of the party, however, have committed to a peaceful transfer of power. Trump is not the Republican party, as much as he would like to be.
My point is that we will know the winner, but it will take time. We all need to take a deep breath and be patient. And whatever happens, the future of this country is not in the hands of whoever gives his inaugural address on January 20. It is in our hands. It will be determined by how we treat our neighbors and by how we build (or tear down) our local communities. If we all commit to build rather than destroy, then no president can stop that.