It was no surprise that a plea for unity was the central piece in President Joe Biden’s inaugural address.
The Democrat’s belief that he can be a catalyst to healing our wounded United States and be the antidote to four years of divisiveness that marked the Donald Trump presidency were driving forces in Biden’s successful campaign for the White House.
The need, however, to hear those words, uttered sincerely even if predictably, from the leader of our nation has rarely been greater. A riot two weeks ago at the very place where Biden took his oath of office Wednesday was an unmistakable call that we have to find a way to bind this nation back together.
Democracy might have prevailed, as Biden said, over that assault on the Capitol, but democracy was bloodied by the effort of a Trump-incited mob to make a last-ditch effort to overturn Biden’s fairly won election.
The war-zone setting in Washington for the inauguration was a glaring reminder of just how dangerous the discord in our nation has become. It was bad enough that the crowds had to be limited by the pandemic, but the heavy presence of military, though effective in keeping the calm, signaled that Americans can’t be trusted to respect the norms of civility and peaceful disagreement, at least not for now.
Biden used his speech to pledge that he would do everything in his power to change this self-destructive dynamic. If he is successful, four years from now, whoever is delivering an inaugural address will look out once again on a sea of civilians brimming with optimism, thinking about how far the nation has come instead of how far it has fallen.
Biden knows, of course, that one speech — as good as his was — is just a start. It’s going to take a lot of work by him, by Republican leaders and by leaders within Biden’s own political party to, as he said, “join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature” so that the nation can address its problems and its challenges.
There are a plateful of them: a pandemic that has taken 400,000 American lives in the past year and ravaged large parts of the economy; social unrest over police mistreatment of Blacks and other racial inequities; the twin forces of automation and globalization that have left the working class worried for its financial future; climate change that is fueling natural disasters from coast to coast; ever-present global tensions; and a typhoon of lies and disinformation, spread by people in power and foreign enemies alike, that have made it nearly impossible to find common ground.
All of this may be more than any single president can solve. Still, it is a refreshing change to have someone in the White House who not only can honestly acknowledge the problems but has the good sense to try to bring people together in the effort to address them.
“We must end this uncivil war,” the new president said. Every American of good will should join him in that cause.
— By Tim Kalich, editor and publisher of The Greenwood Commonwealth