PITTSFIELD — On Jan. 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the oath of office and was officially sworn in as America’s 46th president. Wasting no time, on day one, he took action to undo what he described as over a dozen of former President Donald Trump’s most harmful policies, which included rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, rejoining the World Health Organization, preserving DACA, and putting in place a 100-day mask mandate on federal lands.
In his inaugural address, he also minced no words in admitting the deep challenges the nation faces, including attacks on democracy and truth, COVID-19, growing inequity, systemic racism, climate change and restoring America’s place in the world. He called on the nation to give their best to the country, to come together to craft a story “that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history. We met the moment. That democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch but thrived. That our America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world.”
He spoke of legacy in a way that I’ve seen few politicians do, acknowledging that we need to not only preserve the planet for future generations, but we must act as caretakers of a democracy that we’ve realized is all too fragile during Donald Trump’s four years in office.
“If we do this, then when our days are through our children and our children’s children will say of us ‘they gave their best,’” Biden said.
For many, Jan. 20 was a sigh of relief, especially as only 14 days prior, then-President Trump inspired an insurrection at the nation’s Capitol — his “American carnage” he outlined in his own inaugural address in January 2017 realized. I couldn’t help but think of CNN’s Van Jones’ emotional remarks on Nov. 7, 2020, when it became apparent Biden had won during Biden’s inaugural address:
“It’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to be a dad. It’s easier to tell your kids that character matters. Telling the truth matters. Being a good person matters. ...
“The character of the country matters, and being a good man matters. I just want my sons to look at this — it’s easy to do it the cheap way and get away with stuff. But it comes back around.”
We now have a president that won’t politicize mask-wearing, and who doesn’t view the press as the enemy of the people. A president who won’t inspire violence, terror and hate, but push for unity and understanding.
When Trump was inaugurated, I was the editor-in-chief of my college’s newspaper, and virtually every week, there was some kind of protest against the president’s actions on campus, and that era of protest extended into all four of his years as president. It still hasn’t registered to me that people no longer have to constantly protest the president to do the bare minimum toward preserving and respecting human rights, and that we now have a president who doesn’t describe racists as “very fine people.”
What becomes of Trump’s legacy is yet to be seen, but even a successful and efficient Biden administration won’t erase the stain the Trump administration left on this country, and the emboldened racism and extremism of the far right might plague the nation for years to come. And we will have to grapple with the fact that 75 million Americans voted for Trump last November, but we must also not forget that 81 million Americans voted him out, and while our democratic institutions were challenged, they persevered through Trump’s four-year stress test.
Perhaps the best thing the Biden administration can give the country is hope — that better days can be ahead; that we can come together and persevere and exit the coronavirus pandemic stronger than when we entered it; that we can actually save this planet from climate change.
I am not a very religious person, but I strongly recognize the power in belief. Throughout its history, America has been able to persevere and accomplish great feats thought previously unobtainable, whether that be preserving democracy for over 200 years, surviving our bloody Civil War and two world wars, dismantling the institution of slavery or putting a man on the moon. It just needs the proper motivation.
Perhaps the most important role of the president is being our motivator-in-chief, as while he doesn’t have unilateral power to fix all our problems, he is in the best position to inspire the nation to give their best and to encourage everyone to work together to accomplish the impossible.
Or, as Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose presence at the inaugural went viral, has often said: “When we stand together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish!”