A president for all the people
In the summer of ’74, just before returning to junior high school, I got a civics lesson. A friend and I watched as President Richard Nixon waved goodbye before he boarded a flight home, having resigned because he disgraced our nation. The same day, Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as his successor and uttered these memorable words: “Our long national nightmare is over.”
In his inaugural address, Ford promised to be a president for all the people and do his part to heal our divided country.
Nixon’s presidency was marked by public corruption, election crimes, culture war, an enemies list and lies.
Forty-seven years later, we find ourselves in a time reminiscent of that time.
In 2016, America elected a real estate mogul and reality TV star with no experience in governing and no appreciation for civility. In fact, that’s what some people liked about him, that he was “not a politician,” although for Donald Trump, everything was political.
President Trump’s popularity was based on the mistaken notion that our career public servants are dishonest and our institutions compromised. It’s the populist politics of victimization, usually associated with the left rather than the right. One of its characteristics is an emphasis on crazy conspiracy theories.
Trump’s rise in politics began with the lie that President Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya, and his fall ended with the lie that Democrats had stolen the 2020 election. It was he who tried to steal it, insisting that a Georgia election official “find” enough votes to reverse the outcome in that state and that Vice President Mike Pence prevent the certification of the electoral count by Congress.
In his 2016 inaugural address, President Trump painted a dark picture of our country and talked about “American carnage.”
On Jan. 6 we saw what carnage looks like when the president of the United States incited a raging mob to storm the U.S. Capitol. These domestic terrorists who had the audacity to call themselves Christians and “patriots,” desecrated our citadel of democracy and left several people dead and many more injured, including police officers. It’s a miracle they weren’t able to get their hands on the electoral ballots or members of Congress, which we now know was what they had in mind.
Our republic survived the assault, and this week 25,000 National Guard soldiers answered the call to ensure a peaceful transfer of power as President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was inaugurated as our 46th president and Kamala Harris made history as the first female vice president.
President Biden faces greater challenges than those of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt: a contagion that has killed 400,000 Americans and infected 24 million, an economy in crisis because of that disease, climate change that every year causes devastating wildfires and flooding, and an alarming resurgence in racism, white supremacy and political violence.
What Americans need in 2021, as we did in 1974, is a trusted, competent leader, someone with experience and empathy, and that is the kind of leader we have in Joe Biden.
Like Ford, Biden is respected by politicians of both parties as someone they know and trust, and who has many years of experience of working across party lines to get things done.
Also like Ford, Biden has promised to serve those who voted for him and those who didn’t, to be a president for all the people, to bridge the chasm, to work to end what he called in his inauguration, this “uncivil war.”
Biden is exactly the president we need for this moment, a good and decent man, a man of faith who has suffered great personal tragedy and emerged stronger for it, who can identify with the suffering of others and encourage them to find their own inner resolve — something the narcissistic Trump could never do.
In 1972, Biden announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate by talking about how to bring Americans together again.
“We all too often have allowed our differences to prevail among us. We have too often allowed ambitious men to play off those differences for political gain. We have too often retreated behind our differences when no one really tried to lead us beyond them. But all our differences hardly measure up to the values we all hold in common,” he said then. “I want to make the system work again, and I am convinced that is what all Americans really want.”
That is who Biden was and who he is, a moderate, competent, calm, strong and steady leader, who will work to heal and restore our country after a time of turmoil — a Gerald Ford for our time.