PRESIDENT Joseph Biden’s impassioned pleas for tolerance and unity at Wednesday’s inauguration were delivered amidst an unprecedented military and police presence, a sobering reminder of a divided nation, even as a peaceful transition of power proceeded.
As the drama and discord spewing from the White House ended with the swearing in of the 46th U.S. President, much of America slowly exhaled. A significant minority of voters, however, continue to believe, against all available evidence, that a great president was robbed of a second term by a crooked and rigged election. The dubious sources of misinformation and conspiracy theories fueling some of those beliefs represent an ongoing threat to democracy.
Part of Biden’s mandate will be setting the tone for a more tolerant, respectful, diverse, and civil nation. So far, in his firm but reassuring remarks and a diverse crop of highly qualified appointees, he has done a superb job. The choice of Kamala Harris, the first African American and Asian American Vice President, also sent the right message to the country.
Biden’s age — 78 — might make him an ideal transitional president. He is not a dazzling orator but his gracious, authentic, almost grandfatherly manner appear to make him a man for the moment.
Americans and their elected representatives must maintain a minimal unity to work together and move forward on vaccine distribution, rebuilding the economy, relief for the working class, immigration, climate change, and other pressing problems. Bi-partisan results and progress could help bring the country together, but how the extreme right will behave with Trump out of office is unclear.
It is not only the errant political views of the ultra-right that put the nation at-risk, but also the absolute intolerance with which they wield them. Dissenters from their rigid orthodoxy are enemies of the state or people, unworthy of respect or accommodation.
The soldiers in what Biden aptly called the “uncivil war” have aggravated intolerance, racism, and the ideals of white supremacy.
Calling such beliefs “un-American” ignores an ignoble part of U.S. history. In some ways, they are very American, but so are the grassroots struggles against racism that eliminated unjust laws and finally made the United States a democracy.
At this moment, asking all Americans to love one another, or even like one another, might be asking too much. But Americans must learn to respect each other. Those who can’t embrace and celebrate the nation’s diversity, must learn to at least tolerate it, or a splintered nation will slip into a paralyzing chaos.
Ultimately, the people will determine whether it’s morning in America or midnight.