CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Just over her masks, Patra Okelo’s eyes brimmed with tears when she recalled the moment {that a} fact about America dawned and her innocence burned away.

One second on Aug. 11, 2017, she thought the tiki torches blazing within the distance on the University of Virginia have been “the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, lighting up the darkness.” Later, on tv, she might see the fireplace extra clearly. Hundreds of white supremacists carried these torches, sparking 24 hours of fury and loss of life that remodeled Charlottesville into an everlasting battle cry of the 2020 presidential election.

“My heart broke that night,” Okelo, now 29, stated on Saturday, as President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden blitzed throughout the nation to make the closing arguments of their bitter contest to guide the divided nation.

Presidential elections are historically moments when Americans get a high-definition look within the mirror. But by the ultimate, frenetic dash of the 2020 race, the world had lengthy peered into the nation’s darkest corners and seen a battered and haunted picture staring again.

The presidency and management of the Senate are within the steadiness, however for a lot of, there was one thing much more pressing. Survival was the quick purpose, each as human beings and as a rustic whose very identify appears aspirational at a time of such division and angst.

The listing of threats is lengthy and private: Coronavirus has killed greater than 230,000 folks within the U.S., and infections are surging in virtually each state. The financial system and with it households are affected by uncertainty. The legacy of slavery ripped via society but once more this yr after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests and crackdowns by legislation enforcement.

Okelo can draw a line from the August night time in 2017 when she first noticed the torches to the final hours of the 2020 election. She voted for Biden.

On Aug. 12, 2017, within the hours after the torchlight parade, James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his automobile into a gaggle of protesters on 4th Street and killed activist Heather Heyer. That intersection is now adorned with purple flowers and messages in chalk. Okelo says she has prevented the realm ever since.

Trump blamed “either side” for that conflagration. Earlier this year, he boarded up the White House and used federal forces to protect it from the protests over Floyd’s death. And when asked, he has most often refused to condemn white supremacy.

Okelo, who is Black, heard when Biden launched his campaign for president with the words, “Charlottesville, Va.”

“My younger brother is in danger,” Okelo said she has come to realize. “So I waited in line today, and I voted as I did.”

But the connection between 2017 and now also is marked by contrasts.

A year ago, Americans were riveted by the House impeachment proceedings against Trump for his appeals for political help from Ukraine. The Senate acquitted him at the beginning of 2020, followed by Trump’s victory lap and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s show-topping rip of his State of the Union speech.

A campaign that started with more than two dozen Democrats competing for the right to challenge Trump ended with Biden the party’s nominee, and one of his rivals, California Sen. Kamala Harris, as his running mate, the first Black or Indian woman to seek the vice presidency.

It seems like a distant, more innocent time. When Harris announced her own presidential bid nearly two years ago, she did it before nearly 20,000 people attending an outdoor event in her home city of Oakland, California. Campaigning in the West in the race’s final week, Harris spoke in Las Vegas to a socially distanced crowd of people sitting on blankets spaced 6 feet apart.

White circles around chairs denote appropriate social distancing.

As for the sound of the 2020 race, car horns have replaced the roar of Democratic crowds.

“Honk if you’re fired up! Honk if you’re ready to go!” former President Barack Obama has stated within the closing swing.

On the Republican facet, Trump remained energized by massive, largely unmasked crowds in defiance of the recommendation from his administration’s prime public well being officers.

The president was making a closing blur of 10 rallies throughout battleground states, arguing falsely that the coronavirus was on the wane and falling again on acquainted anthems about Hillary Clinton, his vanquished 2016 rival, and constructing a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

“Tuesday is our massive deal as a rustic!” Trump stated on Sunday, as he braved flurries and a stiff wind chill in Michigan. The president is aiming to run up help within the whiter, extra rural elements of the state with warnings {that a} Biden win might be disastrous for the financial system.

Down within the polls and at a money drawback, Trump expressed confidence and stated of Biden at one level, “I don’t think he knows he’s losing.”

In distinction, Biden’s marketing campaign rallies via Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania have been strictly distanced and typically drive-in affairs the place mask-wearing is required.

At an Atlanta-area occasion on Sunday, a Biden staffer stepped to the rostrum and enforced the principles simply earlier than Harris spoke.

“Y’all need to go back to your cars,” the aide stated. “We are not a Trump rally.”

Also defining this marketing campaign at its ragged finish is a hovering uncertainty and nervousness. Trump has refused to decide to a peaceable switch of energy if he loses to Biden, and his exhortation to supporters to “stand back and stand by” the polls to verify the vote is legit sounded to some like a name to intimidate voters and elections officers.

Images and stories, such as a get-out-the-vote rally in North Carolina on Saturday that ended with legislation enforcement pepper spraying the gang, saved the nation on edge. State police stated individuals have been blocking the roadway and had no authorization to be there. In Texas, Trump supporters in automobiles and vans swarmed round a Biden marketing campaign bus at excessive pace on a freeway.

The collective nervousness was taking a toll.

Mary Williams, a Democrat from Port Huron, Michigan, stated she was “so nervous” as a result of she remembered feeling assured about Hillary Clinton’s probabilities earlier than her beautiful loss to Trump in 2016.

“I jump up in the middle of my sleep,” Williams stated.


Associated Press writers Alex Jaffe touring with Biden, Zeke Miller with Trump, and Kathleen Ronayne with Harris contributed to this report.


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