In the center was former President George W. Bush and alongside him were former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They had just attended President Joe Biden’s inauguration and were here to pledge their support to him in front of the American people.
“The fact that the three of us are here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country,” said Bush, a Republican, in a video that was broadcast that evening. The tradition of such a transfer, Obama, a Democrat, pointed out, is “over two centuries old.”
You wouldn’t know from the harmony of their appeal that a little over 20 years ago, Bush had promised an administration, in contrast to Clinton’s, that “will appeal to our better angels, not our darker impulses” or that Obama had told Americans who were out of work in 2008 to blame “the failed policies of George W. Bush.”
The three men, now friends and members in good standing of the Presidents Club, were a symbolic affirmation of the central themes of Biden’s inaugural address — that “democracy has prevailed” and “we must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue.” But the real test of Biden’s call for unity is what happens now — as the new President seeks Congress’ support for Covid-19 relief and the Senate weighs how to try the impeached (for the second time) former President Donald Trump, who flew out of town the morning of the inauguration.
“The occasion took on a surreal feeling,” wrote SE Cupp. “It was a throwback to an earlier era, an era before ‘American carnage.’ Gone were the anger and division. No one suggested America needed to be made great again. The air of fraught anxiety had lifted. Even the US Capitol building didn’t show the scars of its insurrection just two weeks ago.”
Different this time?
Credit for averting disaster belongs to American voters, judges, election officials, journalists, a majority of legislators, military leaders and police officers like Eugene Goodman, who was honored at the Inauguration after he “heroically moved the rioters from where US senators were hiding during the electoral vote certification process,” Zelizer noted.
For more on the Biden and the Inauguration:
On a larger scale, she also sees positive news. “Biden announced a new team of scientific advisers and created a Cabinet position for the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has publicly committed to leading with science and restoring public trust in the agency.” Millions have been vaccinated in the US, though the rollout is “fraught with problems,” Hills noted.
And, as Thomas Lake wrote, the mental health challenges posed by the long lockdowns and the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans won’t be easy to overcome. “When this is over we will all need help. We already do now. Some of us will get it. Most will not, whether for lack of time or money or motivation. There are not enough counselors to sift through the layers of mental and emotional wreckage and give us all the attention we need.
Trump’s parting pardons
What comes next
“President Donald Trump continued this approach — passing massive tax cuts in 2017, and then, when calamity hit with Covid-19 in 2020, placing the burden of response on the states. It is Biden’s historic task to reverse Reagan’s — and Trump’s — reckless radicalism,” wrote Sachs.
“What is so important to me, a Black Southern woman who writes her authentic truth in verse,” Jones observed “is the incredible door Gorman is opening and will keep opening for us in poetry. As I watched her, gorgeous as she is, walking up to that inaugural podium” her red headband “like a crown, in her striking yellow coat — a sun only mirrored by the light emanating from her — I was so proud of Amanda Gorman.”
“Maybe a poem won’t literally pass legislation or deflect a bullet from exploding in my Black body, but a poem is what makes our hearts move. It does make people think, reflect, and it can even lead to empathy. We need that.”