I Heard My Dad In Joe Biden’s Inauguration Speech
In particular, these words:
“Through Civil War, The Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifices, and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us — enough of us — have come together to carry all of us forward, and we can do that now.”
My dad didn’t live to see Donald Trump win. He proudly voted for President Obama twice, the second time insisting I take him to his local polling place even though he was nearing 90 and barely able to walk, and could’ve easily done an absentee ballot. (The poll workers whispered to me: “God bless him”.) I always think: Trump would’ve liked that.
And he assured me, many times throughout my childhood, and even my adulthood that domestic phenomenons like George Wallace or international ones like Vladimir Putin, could only be a fleeting threat here; could never really establish bases of power in this country because of something that makes America different, and Americans extraordinary. And that is our constitution: both literally, and our Constitution. And our common sense. So while other countries become so inexorably caught up in “racism, nativism, fear, demonization”, as Biden put it, that it triggers grand and disastrous social and economic experiments, often with horrifying human tolls, we, as a nation, are kind of immune. Because while frequently lured in many unsavory directions, those destructive voices and powers would never ultimately prevail, because the cool-headed American people would always ultimately come together to do the right thing. Maybe partly because of, but almost even without the guidance of the Constitution.
I always took that to mean that was because Americans always saw the benefits of a growing and evolving society with lots of risk and uncertain results — but lots of opportunity — over a fixed particular theory of government or “ism”, that most often failed because it was always too structured and rigid that turned on innovators and all kinds of people with ideas.
I guess I can sum up his viewpoint even more succinctly: the rest of the world may be crazy, but Americans aren’t. We may go to the edge, but will never go over it.
Of course, Donald Trump did become President. Something my dad would’ve likely thought impossible. And in a way, that means there’s a little bit of a problem in what Biden said. Because “enough of us” did not come through to prevent that. Only to prevent another 4 years of it. Now. Which feels pretty good right now. But doesn’t change the immensity of some gigantic shifts that Trump brought to the messaging part of governing, and won’t just disappear now, without a lot of work to prove, conclusively, he was wrong.
Biden addresses some of that too. Head on. Saying it’s about truth. Which it is:
“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.”
These are hard issues to combat immediately. And it’s hard to immediately gain someone’s trust, especially if the guy who preceded you — whom many worshiped — has been telling them not to trust you.
As someone who worked in Silicon Valley in the early days of the internet, I often argue a lot of the problems we’re seeing now came from news being meted out via internet platforms almost exclusively designed by engineers — and even more damagingly — marketing and advertising people, with next to zero input from journalists. Because those platforms and portals didn’t see themselves in the editorial business, rather builders of engagement, where the content would come from somewhere else. But I also realize, as a career journalist, that’s easy for me to say. But it’s also true!
And Biden does have a huge opportunity to gain at least some vast public trust, and relatively quickly, if he can get vaccines out and literally heal millions of people in the next couple of months, and also make sure the economy rebounds by giving them support there too. That’ll go a long way.
One of the elements to this story that isn’t being reported enough — but it’s also still very new — is the winning of both open Senate seats in Georgia by Democrats. Who were both sworn in the same day as Biden. That in itself accomplishes at least 3 tremendously significant things. Right now:
- Biden’s cabinet and other nominees who need to get approved by the Senate won’t be delayed and held up and debated forever, as they would’ve been had Republicans kept control of the Senate. Because as you know, the Senate — and only the Senate — needs to approve major presidential appointments.
- The next 2 years in the Senate won’t be dominated by endless hearings about “election irregularities”. Which would’ve absolutely been the dominant theme had Republicans hung on. That’ll mean a lot of that action will be shifted to states, particularly states with Republican legislatures. We’ll talk about that more in the coming days. But for now, all you need to know is the Senate absolutely would’ve been log-jammed with this stuff had Republicans been in control and now it won’t. (Of course, Democrats could log-jam it too with Trump’s impeachment trial, but we’ll give that a few days to play out before we comment on it further.)
- Biden will also be able to get federal judges approved. Meaning since federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, some judges in their 70s or 80s may decide to retire or continue in “senior” status, meaning a younger judge could be appointed by Biden. They also could stipulate that they will not leave their current positions until their seats are filled by a replacement.
None of those things would’ve been possible — or at least much, much harder — had those two Georgia Democrats not prevailed. And Biden’s agenda would’ve been immediately been stuck behind a whole wall of BS that now just isn’t there because Republicans just don’t have the votes to put it there.
Keep in mind though, that a 50–50 split in the Senate isn’t an assured auto-win by Democrats. A lot of what’s involved in “power-sharing” is dictated by tradition, not hard and fast rules.
But the ultimate success or failure of a new positive attitude and devotion to unity on the part of the American President is about the American people. That’s definitely in the mix. There was plenty of joy in this day.
Still, it’s a question I’m wrestling with every day. I engage with a lot of Trump supporters all the time. Many of them are OK. Many of them I get angry at because of their political views but still like personally. But some aren’t reachable at all not one bit, still. Even not to convince, just to talk. And I can’t really figure out how to achieve unity at any level with people who do not tolerate me, and have not for the last 4 years even for a second. Rather have come to view and treat me with contempt, if not outright hatred. And harbor even more hatred for others, whom I love. I’m not even asking for their respect. Just some tolerance. But no, nothing. Because Trump told them they didn’t have to. So I’m not sure I can be tolerant of people who will not tolerate me. And I don’t see how you have unity without tolerance.
So when Biden says:
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured.”
I hope so. But maybe that train has already kind of left the station.
One of my very smartest friends recently suggested that maybe even the people who came to Washington on January 6th were a mix of “regular” Trump supporters and wackos. They mixed together, and whipped into a frenzy by Trump, they became insurrectionists, some because they knew very well what they were doing. Some because they didn’t.
He says without the big crowds, and Trump egging them on, with no Dear Leader and no cause (overturning the election) anymore, all but the real wackos will stop raging so much, and hopefully those wackos can be contained. And maybe we can start talking to the rest. I just don’t know.
I will try. For my dad.