Hope, an unfamiliar emotion

Biden harris inauguration

All right, I’m going to say this out loud. I didn’t want to vote for Joe Biden.

I was angry and disillusioned when the most diverse collection of presidential candidates in US history dwindled down to…an old White man. After watching sexism and outright misogyny destroy Hillary Clinton’s campaign and saddle the world with Trump, it was excruciating to watch sexism rear its head once again. The media learned nothing.

In particular, Elizabeth Warren, whose fully thought-out plans were online for anyone to see and whose competence was unquestionable, could not get media coverage once Biden declared. The coverage she did get was often execrable, castigating her for being unlikable and a “Nurse Rachett.” Steve Forbes (of Forbes Media) said “she reminds people of the teacher you didn’t like,” a statement that was picked up and repeated all over the press. Meanwhile, the usual double standard meant Bernie Sanders was celebrated for his “passion” when he shouted and gesticulated angrily during speeches.

I was so furious about my once-again-limited options that I considered not voting, which would have been a first. (Fortunately, I got over myself and voted online — thank you, Oregon, for making it easy for expatriates.)

But then Biden named his VP, and he chose the very same woman who had skewered him in a debate, castigating him for his opposition to mandatory busing and his nostalgic words about working with two segregationist senators.

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country,” Kamala Harris said, staring him down. “You also worked with them to oppose busing. And there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Jill Biden later said that moment was “like a punch to the gut.”

Harris debate

That Biden chose Harris said worlds about his priorities. He didn’t want a loyalist. He was willing to work with a previous competitor who had landed a serious blow on him. I cannot think of any single thing more diametrically opposed to The Sycophant Show we’ve watched for the past four years than that.

Once Biden/Harris carried the election, we started seeing the cabinet and advisor names. A Native American woman for Secretary of the Interior, which (among other things) oversees the federal government’s relationships with Native American tribes. A Black man for Secretary of Defense. A Latino immigrant for Secretary of Homeland Security, which deals with immigration and border issues. A White woman director of National Intelligence, and a Black woman for Ambassador to the United Nations. An Asian woman for US Trade Representative, and a White woman for Secretary of the Treasury. A Latino man for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and a Black woman for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. A transgender woman for Assistant Health Secretary, and an all-female communications team.

The list goes on and on, a kaleidoscope of skin colors, genders, and impressive qualifications. (NPR has an easy-to-read lineup of all nominees.) Biden is making a powerful statement: he wants his cabinet to look like America.

Next, we saw the list of actions Biden had planned. Never mind the first 100 days, he was going to kick over the table and make shit happen on the first day. Every single thing on that list made my shoulders lighter: rejoining the Paris climate accord, stopping the US departure from the World Health Organization, ending the Muslim travel ban, installing a coronavirus response coordinator to finally provide federal guidance to the release of vaccines and medical supplies, and restoring the Bears Ears and Escalante/Staircase National Monuments — just to name a few. In all, the list was 17 items long. And that was the first day, which is actually half a day, since there was that little matter of an inauguration.

I began to feel a strange stirring of emotion, one I hardly recognized after the carnage of the last four years: hope.

Inauguration west front

This is the first inauguration I’ve ever watched from start to finish. Sure, I watched highlights from past events, especially the oaths and the inaugural speech. But yesterday was special.

What a joy to see the West Front of the Capitol clean and white, wreathed in flags and bunting, housing a physically distanced group of guests — a sharp contrast to earlier images of the same scene swathed in smoke, with thousands of rioters crammed onto all three levels. From an insurrection to the stately process of a democratic handover of power. Ahhh.

As an aside, repair crews replaced the last broken window in the Capitol that very morning. It took two weeks of frantic labor to clean up the damage done by Trump supporters, including redoing enormous amounts of work on the inauguration platform.

“When I left there Wednesday, I was real happy and proud of our team,” said Kevin Grooms, who works in the Paint Shop. The white paint on the inaugural stands was completely finished, and they had made it through nearly three-quarters of the blue detail work. “We worked until probably twelve o’clock Wednesday. And the blue paint that was on the deck was actually still wet.”

“We came back on Thursday morning, and I mean, it was completely destroyed,” he said. “It was just totally demolished. The blue wet paint, they tracked it all over.”

Huge kudos to the team at Architect of the Capitol, the government agency in charge of caring for this national treasure. They worked their butts off to erase those scars. The above photo is a testament to their labors.

It paid off, providing a pristine background for a classy inauguration. I confess to a tear when Kamala Harris took her oath of office. But who could see what happened immediately after and not smile?

Harris biden bump

Watching the body language of Biden and Harris makes one thing clear: they may have been competitors at one time, but they are a good team now.

Building and working with teams is, in fact, one of Joe Biden’s best skills. As I listened to his inaugural address speaking of ending “this uncivil war,” I joined much of the world in letting out a big exhale of relief. I didn’t want to vote for him, but…it just might be that he is the right person for the moment. He is genuine. He gave the most plain-spoken yet beautiful inaugural address I’ve ever heard. He spoke the truth, plain and simple, and his yearning for a return to civility was palpable and contagious.

It would be the kind of irony that historians love: the uninteresting candidate whose lack of polish made him ever a bridesmaid, never a bride, turns out to be the one a deeply wounded nation needs to heal.

We’re only just starting, so who knows, but my anger is long gone. A woman is vice president. A person of color is vice president. Half the cabinet members (if approved) and advisors are women. On day one, Biden enacted the biggest expansion of LGBTQ rights in US history. He’s focusing on the climate crisis, the covid crisis, and the national civility crisis. Regarding the latter, he set the tone right away when administering the oath of office to White House employees via Zoom:

“I’m not joking when I say this: If you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot…No ifs, ands or buts.” He added, “Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”

Change is already happening. It feels good. It feels…like hope.

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10 Responses to Hope, an unfamiliar emotion

  1. Mish says:

    I voted for Pete in the primaries because his moral compass aligns with mine. I was so disappointed when he dropped out. It is sad to see that our country hasn’t progressed enough to where someone other than old, White, man could win. Biden’s inclusivity is a check in the pros column though

  2. Kelly Buchanan says:

    I’m hopeful when things have felt hopeless for the last 4 years. Also, you gotta give a shout-out to the first youth laureate to speak at the inauguration AND she was a black woman! I believe Biden is sincere. The hard part is whether or not the right is listening. During the Inaugural party celebrating front line workers I turned on “News Mix” to see the coverage. CNN, MSNBC and the BBC all were showing the concert. FOX had Tucker Carlson doing a segment on censorship. Since my sister and her husband were no doubt watching their favorite Fox personality (my sister told me “You should watch him. He always shows both sides” 😩) the irony of the segment being on censorship would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad.

  3. Karen says:

    Biden wasn’t my first choice either, not even in the top five, but he might be the only one who would have won against Trump, since he is a moderate, old, White man. And he might just be the right one for the job of cleaning up after Trump. I sure hope so anyway.

  4. steficanook says:

    First off, agree with all the sentiments at the beginning. I also wanted Warren–especially after listening to her on a Vox Podcast, so smart and articulate. But in another way, I appreciate that we have a white male ALLY in the White House, because other white men will follow his lead on how we treat ‘other’ (women, POC, LGBTQ, etc…). Biden sets an example that treats everyone with dignity and respect, but also compassion and empathy. He also sets the example for inclusivity. It is not an us vs. them, blacks vs. whites, women vs. men. A white man invited a mixed race woman to take the first seat at his table. He invited the most diverse group of highly qualified individuals the fill the rest of those seats. Does it feel patriarchal that a white man is inviting them? Yes. But it signals that they are welcome there, finally!

  5. Emily says:

    I really liked Elizabeth Warren too. She’s the only one who has answered where the money would come from in those campaign promises everyone makes. But I will admit that as soon as it was clear that Biden was the frontrunner and Warren was definitely out of the race I switched as soon as possible. I feel like Sanders not conceding to Clinton so long in the last election fractured Democrats enough to let Trump win in the first place, I was very determined to choose whichever candidate would oust him.

  6. Found your blog quite by accident as I was googling joaquinzinhos and your blog came up. I lived in the Algarve from 1988 – 1998 and loved it. My then husband and I started the business in Almancil called Florida Golf (I believe it is still there). I am now back in Ontario, Canada but try to keep in touch with Portuguese friends. I am on a FB page of Portuguese food and recipes. Anyway, to make a long story very short, have signed up for your blog.

    • Welcome! And I’m not sure how you could ever leave after spending a decade here. I don’t post often these days, being more involved in writing novels, but I try to keep it interesting when it happens.

  7. Really good post.
    Yes, for those of us not in USA it feels like Biden is a bright ray of hope.

    To me it feels very much like the difference between Caligula and Claudius. Caligula was frankly insane, unpredictable and was all about hate and petty power. He was an awfully cruel person even for those extremely cruel times.

    Claudius was elected because he was an inoffensive partial cripple who stammered. They thought he would fill the position of emperor yet be totally ineffective, letting the senate rule alone. What was a great surprise is that Claudius turned out to be probably the best educated and most empathetic emperor Rome ever had. He worked to bring people together and embarked upon a massive infrastructure rebuilding effort.

    Sounds really familiar, doesn’t it. 🙂

    • It does indeed — I actually read “I, Claudius” a zillion years ago and loved the irony of his ascent and rule. One can only hope that Biden manages similar accomplishments, but I fear he and the old-guard Democrats still do not understand the nihilistic and extremely successful game of thrones the Republicans are playing. If they did understand, they would have pulled out all the stops to pass the voting rights bill, which was/is the *only* way US democracy will endure. They haven’t done that, which makes me fear for 2024. There are many, many mechanisms already in place at the state level to nullify any election results the Republicans dislike, and the Supreme Court has given up all pretense at impartiality. Only federal legislation can stop this train wreck.

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