I am not the first person to suggest that the Trump era was disheartening, depressing and wholly distasteful to me, but I did not realize until about half way through Joe Biden’s State of the Union-like speech Wednesday night how much I had missed the idea of a president who can lead and argue effectively. Donald Trump had none of that and we paid a big price for it. Personality and swagger ruled the day and led us down a path that was close to disaster. I don’t personally blame Trump for the Corona virus deaths, but I think he must carry a big part of the blame for them because he was so dishonest about handling the problem.
There is none of that in President Biden.
That speech to a winnowed out House melted down by concerns over the virus was crucially important because it gave him a chance to make his argument, that the American era is not over, that the people have not failed, that the strange politics of the Trump era have basically withered on the vine now that the man is held away from social media and its instant access to people who only hear what they want to hear.
That’s why the speech was so good. It was very traditional, some big themes and some big proposals and some big thoughts about how to get the nation back on track again. That all of this comes from the least dynamic of the field of last season’s Democrats is a little surprising, but only to those who have not followed President Biden in his career.
It’s rare to have a politician who is not shy about seeking the goodness in people and wanting to elevate everyone from whatever pit it is that they have stumbled into. But he is sincere about that. When he leans into that podium and gets that kind of scary intensity into his voice, you can tell he means it. He wants all of us to do well, and do better at the same time.
That’s quite a change from the last administration.
He also did something no president has ever done before, acknowledged the presence of two of the most powerful women the nation standing behind him. Vice President Kamala Harris is going to be around for the long run, and even though Nancy Pelosi has spent a long time on the stage, it doesn’t look like she is ready to walk away just yet.
That’s good for all of us.
We need more signs that this nation is closer to its ideals than we realized in the last administration. We are still one nation, despite our differences. One hopes we can all move past that and advance for the common good.
That gives government the purpose it needs to fight back against narrowness, racism and the cynicism that has so defined the actions of the right over the past couple of years. It’s a sign that it’s not time to give up. It’s time to have some hope in what a couple hundred years of history, with all of its mistakes and misstates and prejudices, has presented. We have never been a perfect people, but we have always tried to be better, to identify problems and solve them.
Now that process can get underway again.