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Jay Ambrose is an OpEd columnist for Tribune News Service.
It was a thing of beauty: a light blue, shining sky, a magnificent hymn, a powerful benediction, poetry, patriotic music and a speech in which President Joseph Biden called first and foremost for national unity, mentioning along the way such things as love, liberty, honor and truth. Can he help provide this unity? We don’t know yet, but his inauguration was a signal of hope and it’s impossible to imagine a more vivid contrast to the revolting riot 14 days earlier.
Both were at the Capitol, the governmental center of this country, bringing to mind a line from the great writer of verse William Butler Yeats. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” he told us. Biden wisely did not mention Donald Trump, but he has obviously been part of the story, not in many of his policies that were exceptional, but in a scatter-brained, petty, vindictive, uninformed manner that even made his inauguration very different. Remember how he immediately went to war with the press for not printing misinformation to the effect that the inauguration crowd was bigger than it was?
Trump is not excused because there are leftists of similar ilk, but there are, such as those who endorse conspiracy theories about Russian collusion, threaten Supreme Court justices, viciously demean the 74 million people who voted for Trump and would reverse Trump by reversing his best policy results.
Biden was right to emphasize that we can disagree without anger, that history, faith and reason advise us that we should not be adversaries so much as neighbors. Let’s end this “uncivil war” of rural folks versus urban folks, of conservatives versus liberals, and veer more toward tolerance and humility, he said, but how do we get there?
Faith, maybe? I myself was especially pleased to see that Biden was not one of those who think separation of church and state somehow means faith should not intervene in our political lives, for instance. How wonderful it was to hear Garth Brooks sing “Amazing Grace” emphasizing the good over the bad. Other emotional if non-religious high points worth mentioning include Lady Gaga filling hearts with patriotism in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and 22-year-old Amanda Gorman reciting her poem on justice.
Concerning unity, Biden quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying “my whole soul is in it” and added that is exactly how he feels, and it’s worth mentioning that his record as a U.S. senator did demonstrate an ability to negotiate, to get along with varied sides, to compromise, even if perfection somehow resides outside his grasp. But even with people like Brooks out there, how do you get people to be gentle and kind with anyone who doesn’t share their convictions?
We see examples of the my-way-or-the-highway attitude all the time, and there is now a chorus that everyone who has ever supported Trump in anything is equivalent to a Jan. 6 Capitol rioter and should somehow be punished. There is a special prejudice against his supporters in the white working class. I ran across someone on Facebook writing, “The only way a creature like Trump can be elected President is if we have a lot of fools, traitors, bigots, and crooks in our society. They are the malignant tumor that must be cut out, no longer. Only then will we have the America we thought we had before Trump showed us differently.”
Like Biden, I want this nation to come together, certainly to address racism, for instance, but not to address it violently, not to instigate riots and then pretend they were not riots or to say riots are needed in some instances. That is not unity.
There are tough questions in all of this, but thank you, President Biden, for possibly inspiring higher standards and instigating more thought.