Starting over in a time of testing
How good it feels to be starting over. What profound relief to be led by a president who declares that the people elected not a candidate, but a cause: democracy. A president who is joined in office by the nation's first woman vice-president, first vice-president who is of Black and Asian descent. A president who stretched out a hand Wednesday to those who had opposed him, vowing to be "a president for all Americans."
And what a stark contrast between this day and the work his administration has before it.
In a star-spangled ceremony that had to substitute rows of American flags for Americans, in which every speech was preceded by the sanitizing of the podium from the previous speaker and all had to wear masks, the 46th president of the United States, Joseph R. Biden Jr., turned his campaign pledge of unifying the country into the agenda of his administration. He declared a united national battle against the Covid pandemic, which has largely been fought state by state. He led a moment of silent prayer for its victims, who now outnumber the casualties of World War II.
In the tradition of presidential inaugural addresses, the new president called upon Americans to join him in his task — this time, the unifying of the nation. Calling for an end to "this uncivil war" that has degraded disagreement into dissension, he cited a litany of challenges. Any one of them, he noted, would test the country, but we face all of them: the pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused, cries for racial justice, survival of the planet itself, domestic terrorism. Declaring that we will be judged by "these cascading challenges," he asserted that the participation of all is needed to "write the next great chapter of the American Story."
The American Story may take its place alongside the New Deal, the New Frontier and other slogans from presidential inaugural addresses that define the way an administration sees itself and ultimately is seen by others.
President Biden made reference to how the United States will be seen by those in other countries as it struggles to re-establish its leadership role in the world after the insularity of the recent past. His speech was short on foreign policy, largely putting specifics on pause while the country deals with pressing domestic crises.
His team did not forget that in dark times a little star power can light up future possibility. Yet even Lady Gaga's gorgeous rendition of the national anthem ended up playing supporting actor to Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman as she read her poem, "The hill we climb" on Capitol Hill. Young Ms. Gorman received a standing ovation from the assembled audience, and no doubt around many TV screens and monitors.
The hill on which they all stood bore a new and powerful symbolism during this inauguration, beyond the references to past presidential oaths and the determination of President Lincoln to finish construction during the Civil War because the people needed to see it. Just two weeks ago, the Capitol was breached by an ultimately deadly mob bent on disrupting the counting of the Electoral College votes and worse. The honor of escorting the incoming president and vice-president to the dais went to acting officials of the Capitol Police, including Eugene Goodman, whose bravery was seen as he led protesters away from the Senate Chamber, giving senators time to get away, in a video that went viral.
President Biden took up the Lincoln theme with reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln signed in January 1863, saying, "My whole soul is in it."
"Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this — bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause,” the president declared.
The pandemic is a once-in-a century episode; divisiveness and racism are longtime, ugly realities, as he noted. The idea that they can be truly healed may sound foolish. But then, we have been suffering from a culture that manufactures facts. There is truth, and there are lies. We support President Biden in his resolve to heal and unify the country around the truth that this is a time of testing, and America has always passed the test.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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