If all goes according to plan, just past the stroke of noon on Wednesday Joe Biden will become our second Civil War president.
He will take the oath of office in a deeply rattled Washington that has been essentially occupied by federal troops in the wake of the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6, and he will preside over a nation only beginning to recover its footing after four years of gaslighting.
Biden might be just the president we need right now.
I freely admit to feeling lukewarm at the first thought of a Biden candidacy. Though I always thought he had a good chance to win — I wrote as much — I worried that this nearly five-decade Washington stalwart was not a good fit for the moment. He seemed too moderate, too nostalgic, too tied to a clubby, bipartisan Washington that’s long gone, if it ever existed.
He announced, in the wake of Charlottesville, by talking about restoration — restoring our nation’s soul. He sounded like a good man whose time had passed.
That was before it became clear just how much a lunatic president has done to break America.
Donald Trump will leave office as the first president who didn’t care in the least about democracy. That’s to say nothing of his status as the first to incite a mob to attack Congress, just because it was certifying the result of an election that he surely, definitively lost.
Donald Trump is the worst loser in the history of losing.
Even before the Capitol riot, he viewed the presidency mostly as an exercise in grifting. Leaving aside Jan. 6, his worst moments — and they were many — came when he was called upon to actually govern. Look no further than the COVID tragedy, in which he did everything but formulate and execute a coherent response. If it couldn’t be done with a tweet, Trump couldn’t do it.
His only real skill was putting his rampant racism, sexism, and xenophobia to work relentlessly encouraging his “base” to hate and resent everyone else.
We see now where that’s taken us.
Joe Biden is Trump’s polar opposite, in every way that America desperately needs him to be.
He believes in government, that it has a real role to play in improving people’s lives, and he is not just here to pick your pockets.
He believes, deeply, in the rule of law. (He believes, for example, that the person who gets the most electoral votes wins the election.) He believes that the institutions of government are its great strength, not the politicians who are their temporary stewards. That’s reflected in his Cabinet nominees (including Mayor Marty Walsh), who are all people who are actually qualified to lead their agencies.
He believes in a government that reflects the country. Thus the presence of Kamala Harris at his side as vice president — a first in so many ways, and so long overdue.
I don’t underestimate for one minute the divisions waiting for Team Biden-Harris. The GOP is a party openly at war with itself, tied to the man who took it over and unable to envision a future for itself without him.
Even before that, it was a party that has spent the past 12 years — arguably, much longer — firmly in obstruction mode. A party committed to nothing more than killing the other party’s ideas has left no constructive role for itself, but the GOP shows no interest in being constructive. If Biden seriously believes in some flickering embers of unity, or “bipartisanship,” he’s going to find out very soon that there’s no Santa Claus.
But I believe the bitter, profoundly destructive demise of the reign of Trump — I refuse to call it an administration — could be a gift to Biden and Harris.
By exposing the utter insanity and desperation of many of Trump’s supporters, this moment holds the opportunity to unite the rest of us — those who may disagree on policy but who believe deeply in basic notions of truth and fundamental principles of justice. I don’t believe we are “deeply divided” on those ideas, either.
Joe Biden is a return not just to normalcy, but to sanity. To the belief that in times of deep crisis, such as the pandemic, we want a government that can get us out. Biden will embody the notion that we cannot survive as mortal enemies without perishing as fools.
In this moment, that’s huge.
Under a threat none of us has ever seen, the baton is being passed. From a loser to a winner.
Welcome, Mr. President.