Before the inauguration day was done, Jen Psaki, President Joe Biden’s new press secretary, held her first press conference. When asked what the president’s demeanor was like in his first day in the White House she paused for a moment and then said, “calm.” She recalled he’d said it felt like coming home. He had, of course, walked the halls of the White House for eight years; so much was familiar.
This seemed to be a sentiment expressed by many commentators on the day, a return to normalcy. There is a piece of Joe Biden’s personality that suggests composed and unruffled leadership, and maybe this was the key to his election appeal. In Barack Obama’s new book “A Promised Land”, there’s a telling moment where he describes a meeting with Senator Ted Kennedy on the question of whether or not to run for president. With all the experience of his extended family’s political fortunes and misfortunes Kennedy asserts, “When it comes to running for president, you don’t pick the time. The time picks you.” Maybe this was the case for President Joe Biden.
There has been much speculation about what accounted for Joe Biden’s surge into the lead during the Democratic primaries, and then ultimately into his historical popular vote count in the national election. The common ground among such speculation is that his experience and temperament seemed to uniquely qualify him to be the medicine necessary to heal the open wounds of a country divided in so many ways, wounds festering in racial tensions, hyper-partisanship, a generational virus pandemic, terrible business and job losses, and ultimately weeping in Capitol chaos.
President Biden’s plate is full. The logistics of bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control are prodigious. The virus has run wild for so long, one wonders if the only way to corral the microbe is to wait for herd immunity. The pandemic will be an enormous and rigorous challenge for a new president in the autumn of his years. China looms large on his plate as well as restoring relationships with allies, and resuming leadership in a concerted, collective global effort to make an impact on the escalating existential threats of climate change.
The good vibes of the inauguration and the well-orchestrated virtual celebrations that followed will meld quickly with the realities of domestic and international governance. Having experienced professionals in key leadership roles is reassuring, but the hills to climb are Himalayan in scale. There are signs that some members of both parties realize that partisan ideology must be tempered with the desperate needs of the nation. There are also signs that truth and transparency are essential components of trust in government. Distortions of reality are a detriment to helpful policy formulations, and reality is manifest in truth and transparency.
One of the more refreshing and encouraging aspects of Wednesday’s inauguration was delivered by our freshly minted 22-year-old Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman. If her aspirational words in the poem “The Hill We Climb” were indicative of the mindset of America’s rising Generation Z, then we have much to be hopeful for.
On an intimating stage, with the poise, assurance, and grace of someone much older, she intoned: “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us … and yes we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect … we are striving to forge a union with purpose … we will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be … if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Amen to that Amanda Gorman. What lies before us as a nation is indeed a “Hill to Climb.”
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.