He’s gone. With pomp, puffery and pettiness, the worst President in U.S. history has left a White House and Washington defiled by Donald Trump’s four painfully long years. The bill of particulars is too numerous to recount, save for extorting foreign countries for his own political gain; dereliction of duty, if not outright criminal negligence, in a pandemic; fomenting hatred and disunion; working to overturn a certified and clear election; maliciously interfering with the peaceful transfer of power, and inciting insurrection against a democratic government.
He governed by grievance, misled with lies, rewarded his cronies, grifted the country to line his own pockets, relished demonization, embarrassed us abroad, disappointed and frightened us at home. What, I wonder, will we do when we get up every morning and don’t have to worry about what he has done overnight? When we’re not fixated all day long on his unrelenting malevolence? What will fill the vacuum in our brains now that so much space need not be taken up by this crass, ignorant, narcissistic, dangerous man?
President Biden – let me repeat that: President Biden – faces huge challenges. The COVID crisis and vaccine roll-out. A battered economy. A racial reckoning a long overdue. Alt-right violent extremism. (For the first time I am aware of in an inaugural addresses, a President decried “white supremacy” and “domestic terrorism.”) Broken international relations. Cyber threats and climate crisis.
Biden won’t be perfect. He will make mistakes; there will be gaffes. There will be policy disagreements. But it’s not unreasonable to expect a return to the public square of civility, decorum, reverence for science and fact, institutional respect and individual empathy.
The inauguration was pitch-perfect. Snowflakes disappeared; cloud dissipated; the sun shone. The President’s inaugural address was full of hope and optimism. Our democracy, which has been so sorely tested, has -for now – prevailed.
“The dream of justice for all will not be deferred.” Never had words that we might once dismissed as platitudes sounded so full of promise. Armed with respect for our history, faith and reason, Biden spoke of forging ahead in this “winter of peril and significant possibilities.” He restated his pledge to “restore the soul and secure the future of democracy.” If we work together, we can achieve unity. Looking out on the socially-distanced and masked gathering, he vowed, “my whole soul is in this,” echoing a phrase attributed to Abraham Lincoln when signing the Emancipation Proclamation.
Nevertheless, I remain queasy. Like a grasping dead hand reaching out of an umarked grave in a Coen brothers movie, Donald Trump’s departure pledge that “we will be back in some form” is a reminder that Trumpism lives on among the 70 million people who voted for the now ex-President. Joe Biden has his work cut out for him if he is to fulfill his pledge of healing the American people. But it’s hard to imagine anyone better equipped at this time and in this place to begin that mending process.
Whatever challenges lie ahead, just shut your eyes and imagine you’ve just watched Donald Trump’s second inaugural address. Enough said. Whew!