Today some Americans are full of joy and hope; others feel anger and despair.
If we can believe the Hollywood celebrities and television producers who packaged the Inauguration on January 20th into a feel-good extravaganza for the networks, all will be well from this point forward. Children will smile, couples will cavort, birds will sing, puppies will frolic, and darkness will be banished from the land. We are all as happy as can be, right?
So please ignore the armed soldiers, the chain link fences topped with razor wire, the absence of any real Americans in attendance at the ceremony, and the active censorship of dissenting opinions. And smile for the cameras, damn it!
Yes, there are some obvious conflicts to discuss.
First of all, Democrats somehow transformed the sad sack storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th into a coordinated insurrection worthy an extraordinary military presence one might associate with an open civil war. It is sad they treated a pitiable incident as a political opportunity, and this likely accounted for a lot of the discordant vibe during Joe Biden’s Inauguration. Caution was warranted, but the paranoia just made everyone very jumpy.
In addition, the militarization of the Inauguration provided a jarring and instructive contrast that explained much about what currently ails our divided nation. Only this past year suggestions by President Trump that troops be used to quell destructive and dangerous riots across America were dismissed as a totalitarian overreaction, but now a National Guard soldier on every corner in Washington, D.C. is apparently necessary to save us from the un-woke masses of Americans who might have exercised their free speech rights and protested during Mr. Biden’s big moment. It was hard to reconcile the apparent double standard displayed as the media minions cooed their approval of what was only yesterday a clear sign of imminent dictatorship, and we were taught a vivid lesson concerning the lack of a shared reality between our two major political parties.
We must all hope for the best from Joe Biden during his term in office, but the start of his presidency has only served to emphasize the absolutely binary character of American politics at this fraught moment in our nation’s history. This was a huge mistake on his part.
After positioning himself as a “unifier” who could work with those of all political and moral beliefs, President Biden immediately used his pen to sign a series of executive orders designed to erase President Trump’s policies—and by extension give the middle finger to the roughly 1/2 of the country who voted for him and other Republicans in the last election. Any fleeting hope that President Biden might change the divisive tone and work toward the difficult compromises that would leave everyone a bit dissatisfied— but still believing their values were being heard and respected—evaporated as quickly as a puddle during a hot August day in D.C.
The net result of making some ecstatically happy and others angrily suspicious is that a brief moment when unity might have been possible was tossed aside in favor of keeping the most ardent left wing of the Democratic Party firmly in the Biden tent. Perhaps this makes sense if you presume that many of his voters were far more anti-Trump than actually pro-Biden, but these moves to placate his supporters represented a tremendous missed opportunity to match his actions to his rhetoric. Unfortunately, from this point forward President Biden can be certain that bi-partisan goodwill will be a scarce commodity, which will not be a help to any American who needs help.
We also, of course, can look forward to the spectacle of a 2nd effort to impeach (now former) President Trump for reasons that seem to run the gamut from insane vengeance to outrageous blood lust. Another impeachment circus will likely satisfy that loud and bitter segment of core Democratic voters who wore their index fingers to the bare bone furiously tweeting their hatred of Donald Trump and his policies over the past four years, but it will, in fact, provide but a moment of cold comfort for some while providing a pointlessly inflammatory example of the “us” versus “them” politics that have been tearing our country apart for too many years.
Unity is desperately necessary, but the Biden administration seems to feel that they are not necessarily all that desperate to find whatever common ground may still exist. Perhaps the root of the problem is that no meeting of the minds is possible with those whom you are convinced are fascist, racist, and misogynist scum who need to be silenced rather than listened to. If this is, as now seems to be the case, the operating principle of the Biden team, the end result is going to be far more disunity and open dissent than we can today possibly bear as a nation.
We need to find a way to work together—right now—because 2021 is going to be very, very rough. Last year our national economy fell (or was pushed) off a cliff. This is the year we hit the ground with an impact that will destroy the lives and livelihoods of many Americans unless we can find solutions together.
Having temporarily papered over catastrophe with a stupendous level of government borrowing and spending that would have given John Maynard Keynes a heart attack, we now are going to come face to face with the appalling consequences of our Covid-driven fiscal disaster, which will cause our country’s house of financial cards—burdened with debt and dysfunction—to come crashing down altogether and all at once.
This is a very bad—and very dangerous— time to be at one another’s throats. Cooperation will be the key to making the tough and unpalatable decisions necessary to forestall widespread misery on a scale perhaps never before seen in our nation’s history. If we waste our time and energies now settling petty scores in the pettiest possible manner, we may someday look back on the American leaders of 2021 in much the same way we look back at all those who have made so many horrendously shortsighted decisions over the course of world history—with a combination of pity and disgust.
If there was ever a time for us to all be Americans rather than two warring factions, now is that time. Do we today have a President, a Senate, and a House of Representatives who can rise to meet the national emergency now before us? Given that so many of them were elected on platforms that consisted of denigrating their opponents and dividing our nation, it is difficult to be optimistic, but perhaps this moment of crisis is what is needed for at least a few to find that which is good within themselves—and so enliven it within us all.
However, if we continue to focus on partisanship and retribution, the consequences for America and Americans will be worse than we can possibly imagine. This is not a time for assigning blame and settling scores. Now is the moment when we either rise together or fall apart. These are the only choices possible today, and I pray we choose the path that may (if we are lucky) provide us with some measure of national salvation and renewal.