Steve thinks that it is wonderful to once again have a President who is “hinged.”
I did not want to watch the inauguration of Joe Biden.
Don’t get me wrong: like so many Americans who had worked, prayed, and donated to make this day happen, I could not wait for this day to arrive.
And yet when it came, I was afraid to turn on the television.
I’ll say it: I was terrified that at just the moment we thought America would execute its most profound course correction in over a century and a half, I would witness frenzied QAnon delusionists camouflaged in National Guard gear turn assault rifles on the shining stars of America’s Democratic leadership gathered at the Capitol Building.
This would have represented the culmination of three long-standing terrors: that our government had become so hopelessly incompetent that it could no longer be relied upon to protect our leaders, that the violent mob that stormed the Capitol was just a prelude to the guns of a new Fort Sumter blazing on the Capitol steps, and that our government had been so infiltrated by treasonous agents that we could no longer be sure who we could trust.
Finally, at 11:00 a.m., I stiffened my resolve and turned on the television.
For me, the emotional dam that had been building for four years first cracked – who would have thought? – when Lady Gaga sang our National Anthem. It was one of the rare times in my life – probably not since an Olympic hockey game – that my own National Anthem stirred me in the way that La Marseillaise moved the French nationals in Rick’s Café Américain. But listening to a woman who had risen to fame by embracing the otherness of people who were “born that way,” seeing her turn and salute the flag flying over a building had been brutally assaulted by insurrectionists only two weeks before, and hearing her thunder that the “banner yet waves”… It all moved the patriot in me in a way I have not felt in, oh, I want to say precisely four years. Pretty much to the minute.
Then, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the Vice President of the United States, and we could practically feel the powerful swing of the moral arc of the universe as it took a sharp turn toward justice.
A few short minutes later, Joe Biden raised his right hand, and I, sitting home alone, sheltered in place, could have sworn I heard the thunder of a million voices joining my own in a primal scream of relief and release. Ding, dong, the witch is dead!
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Joe Biden, for giving us our day of national catharsis. If all you did yesterday was simply avoid saying the words “hydroxychloroquine,” “bigly,” and “fake news,” I would have had the best night’s sleep I’ve had since, well, you were Vice President.
But Mr. President, you did so, so, so much more than just that.
Joe, you had us at “My fellow Americans.”
Joe Biden’s inaugural address was exceptionally well crafted and delivered with sober emotional urgency rather than soaring rhetorical flair. From the get-go, it was clear that this President had a deep reverence for the profound symbolism of the peaceful transfer of power, even echoing the classic opening line of John F. Kennedy’s brilliant inaugural address.
Kennedy: We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end as well as a beginning--signifying renewal as well as change.
Biden: Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause… the cause of democracy.
But Biden did not delay in facing the fierce urgency of now. Within the first two minutes, he reminded his audience of the violent attempted coup just two weeks before. Seeing him quickly toggle from the lofty principles of our history to the horrific reality of our current national crises was reassuring. We suddenly remembered what is what like to have a President who is capable of rising to the demands of the office, rather than trying to dumb down problems so that they appeared solvable by a moron.
Clear-headed assessments of our challenges, plain-spoken wisdom about how they must be faced. After four years in a pre-adolescent pig-pen of ignorance and a sewer of corruption, the transformation sent us soaring.
As fully expected, the overwhelming takeaway from Joe Biden’s inaugural address was his message of unity, idealistic words from a genuine, empathetic, and decent human being. Biden devoted an extraordinary percentage of his inaugural speech to this concept, and we all so want to believe that a good and decent man appealing to the better angels of our nature can, by the force of his will, return our nation to the unity of purpose and common good that we once knew.
But in our era of radical polarization, such appeals for unity can seem very naïve. We already know that Mitch McConnell will do everything in his power to undermine Biden. “Better angels” in Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley? These two scumbags deserve a fully dedicated circle in Dante’s Inferno.
Kumbayas about how we all have to live and work together adhering to norms of civility, manners, and respect is gliding on the superficial surface of “unity,” and yes, Joe Biden was guilty of that for portions of his address. But fortunately, Joe Biden chose this occasion to dig a bit deeper on the subject of “unity” than he would do in his usual stump speech.
Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC drew our attention to Biden’s new and far more achievable definition of “unity:”
“Through civil war, the great depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.”
“Enough of us,” O’Donnell noted, is not “all of us.” Just enough. We don’t need the half of the Republican Party that still soaks in the putrid brine of conspiracy theories. With control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, we already have “enough” to get a great deal accomplished. Add in the small but perhaps growing percentage of Republicans who are weary of the McConnell obstructionism, Trump corruption, and Cruz control, and you can make real progress.
There was another difference in Biden’s appeal for unity that I found inspiring.
Back in the campaign, Biden tended to talk about what we should be united for… you know, freedom, opportunity, justice, ending the pandemic. Who could disagree?
Yesterday, he spoke about the harder part of “unity:” what we must be united against. What elements in our own society represent clear and present dangers to our freedom and our democracy?
Biden spoke emphatically that he will not tolerate the violent mob tactics of the insurrectionists:
“And here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.”
Just as importantly, Biden identified the pillar of democracy that is perhaps under the most ferocious attack of all: truth itself.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
Indeed – and perhaps I read too much into this – when Biden was summarizing the challenges that America faces, he appeared to place the issues of insurrection and blatant deceit at the top of a list that included the coronavirus, racism, and climate change:
“Folks, this is a time of testing. We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America's role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways, but the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we've had.”
All of these challenges face the Biden administration, all must be confronted, and all are at “DefCon One” priority due to the ineptitude, cynicism, and corruption of the disgraced Republican administration.
But Biden may have signaled his belief that our biggest concern must be the violent aggression of organizations like QAnon and the Proud Boys – organizations that Donald Trump fed with the red meat of his charges of election fraud. After what we witnessed in Washington earlier this month, we must accept that the decade ahead could very well be one of routine vigilante violence and attempted assassination. This is what we must be unified against. Joe Biden gets it.
Similarly, Biden was remarkably direct about the poisonous impact of profligate lying on a democracy. We must take on -- as a government, and as a people – the amoral corruption of the truth that happens nightly at Fox News, Facebook, and Russian-backed disinformation campaigns. We could see in the span of hours how Donald Trump’s influence was instantly constricted when he lost his twitter feed. What can we learn from this?
Perhaps we stage a national boycott of every company that advertises on Fox News. Perhaps we band together and publish a list of every company that donated a penny to any of the Republicans who voted against the ratification of the Electoral College, and announce that we will no longer purchase their goods and services. We, the people, have leverage to attack, punish, weaken, and cripple organizations that profit from lies. This is an urgent task to preserve our democracy. Joe Biden gets it.
But for now, let’s take a deep breath, and then exhale.
We all know the truth: Donald Trump came this close to ending democracy in the United States of America, and had he been re-elected, he most certainly would have succeeded.
Today we can celebrate the fact that reality – with all of its ugly, difficult, smelly, unsightly blemishes and odors – is back.
And, finally, we have a President who is willing to take it on.
Hope you enjoyed yesterday.
Because we have an enormous amount of work to do starting today.
We, your fellow Americans, stand united behind you, President Joe Biden.
Lead us forward.
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