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OPINION

America re-embraces normality

Rationality, not unity, is our true national need.

Bob Garrett, Sexton at Market Square Presbyterian Church, stands for the pledge of allegiance with those who came in for the watch party of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Wednesday, in Harrisburg, Pa. Garrett hosted a watch party event for people experiencing homelessness to watch, warm up, eat food, and drink as they watched the inauguration.
Bob Garrett, Sexton at Market Square Presbyterian Church, stands for the pledge of allegiance with those who came in for the watch party of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Wednesday, in Harrisburg, Pa. Garrett hosted a watch party event for people experiencing homelessness to watch, warm up, eat food, and drink as they watched the inauguration.TYGER WILLIAMS/Associated Press

Joe Biden isn’t an extraordinary leader or a mesmerizing speaker or a brilliant intellect. He is a regular Joe, as ordinary as one can be after a lifetime in politics. His presidential inauguration marks not political salvation or national redemption, but an important step toward a restoration of American norms.

That is, a return to democratic normality. And a re-embracement of the time-honored American understanding that true patriotism puts country above party, the Constitution over any particular political paladin.

In his inaugural speech, Biden asked for unity, but one suspects if he had said what he really meant, he would have offered a plea for rationality.

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Although oft-called for, unity is more bromide than governing banner. You aren’t going to find unity of purpose among people with starkly different perspectives. An example: Biden plans additional tax credits and relief for working- and middle-class citizens, which he hopes to finance through higher taxes on upper earners and corporations. We may see widespread support for that proposal among the planned recipients of the tax breaks, but don’t expect it among those who will fund them. More perniciously, if one is animated by racial resentments, he or she isn’t going to embrace Biden’s effort to give Black and brown people their rightful place at the national table.

Here’s what Biden can hope to do, however: Expand the proportion of Americans who see the world in relatively clear-headed fashion and who understand that the change of policy priorities that comes with an election shouldn’t be viewed as dire threats to the nation. That was the message that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama reinforced with the low-key but remarkable video colloquy presented as part of Wednesday night’s celebration: Let’s keep our differences in proper perspective by remembering we are Americans first and foremost.

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That, however, will require an abandonment of falsehoods, like the absurd conspiratorialist canard that this election was stolen, and an acknowledgment by Republicans that Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States. That’s no doubt one of the things the new president was referring to when he spoke of our national responsibility to truth.

“[E]ach of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies,” he said.

Too many so-called leaders have failed our country there. Too many lazy citizens have become witting dupes for the dispensers of delusion.

Those fabulists-for-profit aren’t going away. Even as Biden took the oath of office, InfoWars, the site of noxious right-wing agitator Alex Jones, he of the obscene Sandy Hook-was-a-hoax claim, was blaring: “Communist Chinese Install Brutal Globalist Joe Biden to Subjugate USA.” The Fox News website, meanwhile, was highlighting a warning from polemical prevaricator posing as populist Tucker Carlson that Democrats are planning a war on Trump supporters, preparing to deal with them “the way you deal with . . . existential threats to the nation” like “Saddam Hussein” or “[Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi.

Almost as ridiculous is the oft-heard conservative charge that the victory of a center-left pragmatist somehow represents the triumph of socialism or communism.

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All of which is to say, there’s an abundance of apocalyptical idiocy abroad in the land, which is a further impediment to common sense and common purpose. Fortunately, the new president doesn’t really need a unified nation. If he can run the country in a way that keeps his approval rating in the 55 to 60 percent range, he’ll have the support he needs to move forward effectively.

The chaos inspired by the last president should serve as a helpful backdrop. Polling shows Americans overwhelmingly condemn the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. That national trauma should remind everyone that American democracy is neither inevitable nor immutable — and make Bidenesque normality a welcome oasis after the Trump years.

“Through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed,” Biden said. “In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.”

If you were one of those who helped our return to normality, thank you. Like Biden, you are a regular, everyday American hero.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.