Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 16, 2020
For someone who had held his tongue for several weeks as Donald Trump continuously trashed the elections as fraudulent, President-elect Joe Biden’s remarks after the close of Electoral College voting was a welcome wash of relief.
It’s not so much that Biden had finally spoken up, but he actually did so in a way that shows that there is some steel disguised in his politeness.
What Trump and the Republican leadership he has insisted follow him have been doing for weeks in pushing a fantastic view of himself as the winner of an election stolen from him has been nothing less than undercutting trust in American democracy. It’s been fine for others to call this out, but seemed necessary to hear from Biden.
In a relatively short, direct, effective manner, Biden managed to praise democracy itself and some heroics of American voters, issue a call for reason and remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic — even finally naming Trump as a bad guy for not doing his job.
While no soaring rhetoric, Biden’s remarks came across as earthy, heartfelt and a bit less stiff than he normally does. Frankly, the words felt overdue and prepared, as he said, for the country to “turn the page” on the elections, and turn the attention of both parties to actual problems that seem unrelenting at the moment.
It was a call for seriousness rather than the comical turn of the White House jester.
A Tentative Biden
Perhaps the reason Biden’s words felt right is that up until now, he has struck a tone that, while calming from the upset of the Trump era, has come across as safe, somewhat tentative and almost overly careful about the demographics of his incoming administration than about laying out an aggressive opening to his presidency.
We get it, we see it: Biden is picking a Cabinet and advisers that, again as he says, look more like America, and I, at least, applaud that. Truly, it should not be so difficult when you’re hiring so many leaders at once to be able to reach across the various identify groups who worked to put you in the White House.
That Biden has been able to tap so many highly experienced people to lead state, medical, economic and other posts just makes Trump’s virtually all-White Male lineup look more like the extreme and contentious outlier that it was. That Biden continues to avoid appointments that are demonstrably progressive in outlook does not serve him or the country. We’re missing a different kind of diversity.
But as columnist David Ignatius of The Washington Post has noted, Biden is picking leadership for his government that is comfortable for him, one that can most easily get confirmation and that has more than its share of Obama-era holdovers. With Biden himself at age 78 and a political veteran of decades past, he seems to be skipping the more adventurous route of priming us for a new generation of leadership that will come up with better answers to persistent government woes.
“Biden has chosen a low-maintenance Cabinet. That’s sensible, up to a point. But as Biden might say: Folks, it’s not enough,” argues Ignatius. “He’s gathering a Cabinet that mirrors his own strengths — sane men and women, each one likable and competent. Like Biden, they can play the old tunes so well that maybe Americans will begin to forget what they’re so angry about. But the virtues of calm and collegiality can be overstated. . . Biden understandably doesn’t want a fractious “team of rivals” . . . But he shouldn’t have a team of retreads, either.”
In his post-Electoral College remarks, Biden made clear that he left space for Trump to act without Biden comment. But, in the end, Biden needed to make clear that there is a new sheriff in town.
Get On With It
Word yesterday was that starting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, official Republican leadership was now moving to acknowledge Biden as the new president — but later than even Russian President Vladimir Putin. Next step actually would be for them to hear him out — to say nothing of really helping — on an economic stimulus package, on a smooth approach to coordinating state distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, to an understandable approach on climate, environment, education, trade and adherence to international alliances.
There will be plenty of time ahead for real and meaningful opposition. But Biden’s remarks since the elections literally are about finding common ground with Republican leadership on a host of possibilities. They should take him up on it, and use such negotiations and compromises to distance themselves from the enslavement to the personality cult of Donald Trump.
Instead, of course, Republicans in both houses are already talking openly of opposing Biden’s policies wholesale, as happened with Barack Obama. That would be a mistake, in my humble opinion.
There is a whole lot of trust-building that needs to be done in the aftermath of Trump. Republicans have the chance to be on that bus or to stand in its way, continuing to ally with a failed president who looks more foolish each day.