Four years ago today, I woke up feeling inconsolable. My soul had been crushed by an incontrovertible reality: I live in a nation that had elected a racist TV reality show host to the most powerful job in the world.
Still, I clung to a dream.
Today it comes true — thanks to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Granted, the first president in American history to be impeached twice has robbed us of the fulsome inauguration we've yearned to celebrate. His botched handling of the pandemic plus inciting the sacking of the Capitol resulted in today’s bare bones festivities. But, it's worth the trade-off of missing that pomp and circumstance to see the back of Trump’s signature comb over. Like many of you, I’ve tamped down my disappointment that he won’t be led from the White House decked out in an orange jumpsuit and shackles and curbed my anger over his final brazen hustle to slither out of town on Air Force One.
While today marks a new era, this nascent chapter is riddled with a uniquely maleficent legacy. Unlike those who sunnily predicted four years ago that the 45th president would rise to the demands of the office, I had braced myself for the worst. Tragically, Trump delivered — beyond even my darkest fears. After all, back then, the concepts of “sedition” and “pandemic” weren’t on my radar. Starting today, due to the Trump administration's colossal incompetence, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will preside over a nation battered by simmering racial unrest, the loss of more than 400,000 lives to a still-raging virus and an economy mired in deep recession. Charged with trying to heal and unite a historically riven country, they must also address the looming crisis of domestic terrorism wrought by Trump empowered white supremacist groups.
With each newly released video frame of the Capitol siege, that threat has come into clearer focus. While the enemy within us has been there all along, it was triggered by what Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall dubbed "a ten-week tantrum" of a toddler president unable to accept defeat. And it was abetted by every single Trump lickspittle who parroted the lie that the November election had been stolen. The outcome was a sickening display of white might or, as NYT opinion writer Wajahat Ali said, an insurrection driven by the “audacity of caucasity.”
Some of the tumult's most graphic footage was shot by former war correspondent Luke Mogelson, a New Yorker photojournalist. In addition to his 12-minute video, Mogelson’s stunning story "chronicles an attack foretold by Trump supporters who had been declaring, at rally after rally, that they would go to violent lengths to keep the President in power.”
Those alarming images have led to the resurgence of a palliative phrase favored by cable TV pundits peddling a comforting white lie: This is not who we are. While most Americans weren't among those trashing the Capitol hellbent on overturning a free and fair election, the insurrectionists are part of the American tapestry, woven into the fabric. Like it or not, they are who we are and who we’ve always been. But they forged their mandate from watching Trump who, over four years, elevated the evil of the big lie into an art form. We now live in an era where repeating a lie often enough makes it true. And, when nothing is true, everything is possible.
Of course, Trump couldn’t have sustained his massive web of deceit without help from those willing to sell out the truth -- and our democracy — because of their psychotic fear of alienating his base. For four years we’ve watched incredulously as those who know better — Republicans who were elected to defend the U.S. Constitution — fed Trump’s big lie beast. We’ve witnessed the hypocrisy of evangelicals who turned a blind eye to the unspeakable cruelty of seeing children separated from their parents. We’ve bemoaned the cowardice of big business leaders who touted Trump’s tax cuts and ignored his racist and wanton behavior. And we’ve waited for high tech giants to crack down on his virtual bully pulpit. When Twitter finally did just that by recently banning Trump, online misinformation about election fraud plunged 73 percent, according to research firm Zignal Labs, underscoring the power of tech companies to limit the falsehoods poisoning the public square.
Make no mistake, every single person who enabled, justified or rationalized Trump’s serial lying owns a piece of his most sweeping and insidious legacy: a society that now marinates in the toxicity of truth decay. Even as their crocodile tears and the self-serving mea culpas start to flow in the name of rebranding or justifying their complicity, they must be held to account for the damage they have done.
They, too, are who we are. It took a conversation with presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham to see those words through a new lens. During my televised interview with him just before the November election, I expressed frustration with those who could rationalize events like Charlottesville or racist policies including the Muslim Ban or the murder of George Floyd by claiming, “This isn’t who we are.”
To which Meacham replied, “The better way to put it is not to say, ’This isn’t who we are’, because it is. But it’s to say, 'it’s not who we want to be.’”
Thankfully, Joe Biden has been leading the way on the aspirational front for well over a year. As WaPo columnist E.J. Dionne reminded us in his recent op-ed "Before his formal entry into the presidential race, Biden listed the core questions the country would answer in 2020: “What kind of nation are we becoming? What are we going to do? Who are we?” With the demise of Trump’s venal reality show, get ready for the debut of a new reality of governance which turns on science and facts, compassion and decency.
Granted, President Biden faces what many historians say is the heaviest lift of any president in generations, including what NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof called "an undercurrent of national delusion that fuels division and violence.” Still, that surfeit of challenges could be a harbinger of a tremendous upside. In his piece When Biden Becomes Rooseveltian, Kristof encouraged Biden to channel his inner FDR to take bold action on the big four crises we face — pandemic, economy, racial injustice and climate change. Clearly, Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellin is already onboard with that advice. Yesterday she cited the imperative to “go big with a Covid relief package” to deliver long-overdue help to those suffering most from the coronavirus debacle.
Ever since Biden started to fill the leadership void created by a petulant loser, many of you have written about a newfound sense of calm and well being. In fact, one member of the activist group Markers for Democracy described Biden’s style as “the verbal equivalent of matzo ball soup.”
Despite that Zen effect, buckle your seatbelts. The first 100 days of the Biden Harris administration will fast forward through a national distribution plan of 100 million Covid vaccines, jump start the economy with stimulus checks, grants for small business and school funding for safe reopening. Also being green-lighted are plans to rejoin the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, reversing many of the vicious Trump immigration policies by reuniting children and parents separated at the border, opening a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people and revoking that bigoted travel ban. Plus, the Biden Harris administration will push to pass the Equality Act to extend federal protections to LGBTQ+ Americans and create a national police oversight commission to address racial injustice in law enforcement.
And, that steroid-fueled agenda will have to share the stage with the impending impeachment trial.
But, for today, juxtaposed against the searing pain I felt exactly four years ago, I am reveling in the relief and joy that have been such a long time coming. I am celebrating a very long list of mitzvahs like the return of pets, including the first shelter dog, to the White House and all of the firsts personified by Vice President Kamala Harris.
I am grateful for our new president who understands our need to heal and to believe in our country again; as well as our yearning to restore the moral compass that once elevated America to a shining city on a hill - around the world and in our own eyes.
Finally, I am celebrating turning the page and the part all of us played in making today happen.
Happy New Year.