President Joe Biden has started the work — and what a massive change that is

What a contrast: Our new president calls for hope, positivity, unity and truth ... no mention of "American carnage"

By Terry H. Schwadron

Published January 24, 2021 5:00AM (EST)

President Joe Biden speaks during the the 59th inaugural ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today's inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden speaks during the the 59th inaugural ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today's inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)

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In relatively simple, straight words and actions contrasting fully with his predecessor, President Joe Biden started the work he said he would do as the nation's chief executive.

There was a certain national determinedness evident in choosing to have the ceremonies on the Capitol steps just days after a Trump-clad mob swarmed to deny presidential election results and would-be healing messages that seemed welcome by most Americans.

It was a ceremonial day, a non-corny, heartfelt flood of oratorical references to Hope, Light, Unity, Positivity and Truth. "We need to end this uncivil war," Biden intoned in a speech he has wanted to make for more than 40 years.

"We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured," Biden said.

More importantly, there was action, on Day 1 of President 46, and an expression of Doing Right that has been missing for a long time. Biden makes us believe he will act to fight for racial inclusion and against white supremacy and any anti-democratic movement.

What struck home was how simple the messages were, despite the complexities ahead in carrying them out: Wear masks. Get vaccines done. Join the world again. Widen access to health and public education. Recognize Climate Change.

It was pretty far from Donald Trump's proclamation that we were facing "American carnage" — and then did his best to bring it about.

Actually, few missed Trump on the podium.

An upbeat message

The message — delivered better by 22-year-old poet laureate Amanda Gorman and the benedictions than by deeply empathetic Biden: Get along as neighbors with a common purpose of dealing with Big Issues. The unity Biden seeks among "enough of us" is attention to issues beyond our personal well-being.

Biden may not be a soaring orator, but he came across as believable and ready to steer a course through our simultaneous pandemics. Even political opponents could come away feeling that at least Biden wants to do the job — apparently with as little pomp as possible.

"To heal, we must remember," he said at the nation's only official memorial to 400,000 coronavirus deaths. Again, simple words used at a simple ceremony. It was a public action that eluded Trump, whether for pandemic, joblessness, race gaps or environment.

The slew of Biden executive orders really were pretty simple statements, too. They acknowledge America is not alone in the world on:

climate or pandemic

owning up to what we owe a generation of Dreamers

halting separation of families at the border

remaking immigration 

relaunching the fight to control coronavirus.

They are ideas that may come across as bold, even controversial, in a bifurcated Congress or even in a country divided by what it has been told by competing news sources.

But, in truth, they were simple statements toward justice and toward righting some of what has gone awry.

Trump's departure

To the end, Trump proved his usual narcissistic focus of egotistical self-congratulations, only half-heartedly wishing an unnamed Biden good luck because he, Trump, had bequeathed him a country in such wonderful shape, reality notwithstanding.

Trump's petulant departure was a ridiculous, self-serving, sad attempt to take the spotlight, complete with red carpet and artillery fire. He threatened a return "in some form" and said a Trump movement would carry on.

His last-minute pardon list made absurd anew the misuse of presidential powers on behalf of political buddies and served as a "final 'screw you' to the criminal justice system that he thinks unfairly targeted him and his allies," as Axios said. And a last move to revoke his own executive order, which newly allows his inner circle to take lobbying jobs, overturned his commitment to draining the swamp.

Trump's actions were not conservative or liberal, they were not helpful to the nation, they did not make us safer or healthier or more secure. They helped only Trump as he set off to a rally-like playing of "YMCA" blaring, on his imagined government in exile in West Palm Beach. Even QAnon supporters said in tweets that maybe they had been duped into believing in this guy.

Indeed, Trump will be back –- in the form of a trial in the Senate where his prospects seemed to dim with Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican leader, placing direct blame for provoking the Capitol riots on Trump.

Add to that plenty of other legal actions preceding and during the Trump years pending in New York courts. Only conviction in the Senate, however, will be sufficient to precede a vote to deny him the right to seek the presidency again.

Biden's burden

What seemed important about last Wednesday's highly contrasting images was both in closing the Trump era and taking action to start anew on issues that are about policy, not personality. The day's ceremonies seemed to make even more absurd last week's Insurrection Day attacks, which gave voice only to divide and not toward getting anything done.

For example, there will be plenty of debate on whether Biden's approach to immigration and offering a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented arrivals is practical or achievable. We heard equally early, overwrought Republican opposition.

Specifics aside, what we could recognize was that on Day 1, Biden was proposing legislation offering a simple statement of humanity and that he was seeking to underscore an American tradition of openness.

We expect the same shortly on coronavirus funds and jobs, on the environment and on health. From the opening bell, we're seeing a government that believes in making change to make American lives better, not Biden's own political future.

That is a welcome development already.

Terry H. Schwadron

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