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As President Biden stepped up to give his Inaugural Address, my first thought was that here was a decent 78-year-old man, our oldest president ever at such a moment, who had tremendous challenges before him, but was going to do his best. Our hearts and minds should empathize with him. We can disagree and nitpick later. For now, let’s be open to his words and wish him well.

As he said in his speech, “Let's start afresh, all of us. Let's begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war. . . . Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree so be it. That's democracy. That's America. The right to dissent, peaceably, the guardrails of our republic is perhaps this nation's greatest strength. Yet hear me clearly: disagreement must not lead to disunion.”

In his address, he identified our present problems, presented historical background, and then offered us a way forward.

First our problems. “We face an attack on our democracy and on truth” (“Just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol's very foundation”), “a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, [and] a climate in crisis,” from which the “cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.” In addition, “millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed,” and the U. S. leadership in the world has been diminished. At home, we also face “a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, [and] domestic terrorism that we must confront.” Because of these problems many “Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. . . . They worry about their jobs . . . wondering, can I keep my health care? Can I pay my mortgage? Thinking about their families, about what comes next.”

Now, as he sets out to try to right our ship of state, he recalls Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and saying “my whole soul is in it.”

The new president realized, however, that we have always faced great challenges and sometimes failed. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.” But “through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.” To make his point, Biden referred to local monuments such as the Capitol dome, “completed amid the Civil War, when the union itself was literally hanging in the balance” (and under which an unruly mob so recently desecrated our legislative home); and the National Mall, “where Dr. King spoke of his dream.” Biden acknowledged, however, “the battle is perennial and victory is never assured.”

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How then are we to prevail? “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity, unity.” Three months ago at Gettysburg he preached the same message. But much has occurred since then.

Now, as he sets out to try to right our ship of state, he recalls Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and saying “my whole soul is in it.” And Biden tells us his “whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.” And call me naive for believing a politician, but I believe him.

Our answer, he continues,

is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don't look like look like you or worship the way you do, or don't get their news from the same sources you do. We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we're willing to stand in the other person's shoes. . . . Because here's the thing about life. There's no accounting for what fate will deal you [and fate killed his first wife and baby daughter, and much later his oldest son]. Some days, when you need a hand. There are other days when we're called to lend a hand. That's how it has to be. That's what we do for one another. And if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future. And we can still disagree.

My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we're going to need each other. We need all our strength to to persevere through this dark winter. We're entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as One Nation. One Nation.

“With unity,” Biden believes, “we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward, reward work and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.” But, he stresses “the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us, on we the people who seek a more perfect union.”

walter moss

Walter Moss

Idealistic? Yes. Utopian? Maybe. But with an Inaugural Address at the start of a new presidency, like springtime after a dark winter, what better time for hopes and goodwill?

Walter G. Moss