Dateline: Washington, D.C., Inauguration Day, 2021
As President Joe Biden looks out over the empty windswept National Mall and into the living rooms of 325 million Americans, pumping a message of healing and unity, the odds of his success — of America’s success — could not be longer.
Rahm Emanuel recently framed it like this: “Lincoln had the Civil War, Wilson had the pandemic, Roosevelt had the Depression, and LBJ had the civic unrest of the 1960s… Biden has all four.”
Sobering thought. And this is not even factoring in the bridge-mending that will have to be done with our allies, addressing our crumbling infrastructure, reigniting faith in our cratering institutions, negating the inroads that Putin and the Russians have made into our election system, improving health care, solving immigration, passing criminal justice reform, managing the opioid crisis…
And he must do it while navigating the smoke and noise of a sensationalist, hyperventilating media, as well as the conspiracy theorists, the Trump loyalists, the extreme wing of his own Democratic party, and the binary reality of modern American politics where one side needs the other to fail.
This will no doubt be an extremely tough task.
But he wanted it. He earned it. Fought through the field in a packed primary, survived one particularly brutal debate, an election night that dragged on for days, an iconoclastic incumbent who refused to accept defeat, and an attempted insurrection, all to arrive at this moment in history. Now here he is. Here we are. The question is: where are we going?
One of the many frustrating themes of the outgoing Trump regime was its disdain for the truth. They coined the phrase “alternate facts” from the jump and it would become a cornerstone of the administration for the duration. In order for us to find our way out of the wilderness, the truth needs to be magnetic north on our national compass.
Here are some hard truths that President Biden and congressional members of both parties must come to terms with over these next pivotal years:
— Racism is a massive problem in this country but no ethnicity has a monopoly on it. Double standards have become increasingly glaring in recent years and hate groups are using these as tools to recruit and indoctrinate America’s alienated youth. If we continue down this road of highlighting the skin color of bad cops and unarmed victims only when it suits a certain narrative, we’ll never disentangle ourselves from the baggage of our ancestors. We are Americans first. Black, white, brown, red, yellow, blue, whatever. Our histories and destinies are all entwined. And whenever any American kills another American, it’s a sad day for us as a people.
— Compromise needs to make a comeback. Special interest groups like Planned Parenthood and the NRA view any concession (the banning of third trimester abortions, the banning of automatic assault rifles) as a slippery slope toward their own extinction. They use their money and influence to strong-arm senators into never giving an inch. This is no way to govern. The ability to work with those across the aisle is an asset, not a liability. We should demand it from our representatives.
— American isolationism is bad for us and bad for the world. Biden’s former boss said it best: “If moral claims are insufficient for us to act as a continent implodes, there are certainly instrumental reasons why the U.S. and its allies should care about failed states that don’t control their territories, can’t combat epidemics, and are numbed by civil war and atrocity. It was in such a state of lawlessness that the Taliban took hold of Afghanistan. It was in genocidal Sudan that bin Laden set up camp for several years. It’s in the misery of some unnamed slum that the next killer virus will emerge…” We are all connected. There’s a reason why we helped establish organizations like the U.N., the IAEA, and the WHO. Our failure to lead over the last four years has created a vacuum where China has made significant gains. Do we really want an authoritarian government setting the international tone?
Our nation is often referred to as a “democratic experiment.” And lately we’ve come dangerously close to having that experiment blow up in our faces. Free and fair elections, the peaceful transition of power, the right to assemble, free speech, due process… the very document that guarantees our liberty has come under attack. But we’re still here. Still kicking. Still the gold standard for freedom. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” There’s a reason people brave shark-infested waters and coyotes and narcos and ICE cages and miles of desert to get here. Hope. Anything is possible in America.
So now the nation, and much of the world, looks to Mr. Biden to orchestrate our comeback. It starts today. And his success is our success. Can we pull it off? Again, the odds are long. But I wouldn’t bet against us.