By MARSHA MERCER
As Joe Biden became president Wednesday, he pledged to work for unity and asked all Americans to join him.
“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,” he said in his Inaugural Address on the West Front of the Capitol.
Few would disagree – in theory, anyway.
Biden’s call for Americans to treat each other with dignity and respect, to lower the temperature, stop shouting and stand for truth are a welcome change in presidential tone and approach.
But civility doesn’t mean standing still. Biden also wasted no time showing the new direction he wants to take the country.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities,” he said. “Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build, and much to gain.”
He signed a stack of executive orders to undo policies of his Republican predecessor -- on the coronavirus, immigration, the economic crisis and the environment. They were the first of many executive actions planned.
Even though conservatives championed President Donald Trump for using executive orders to reverse the course set by President Barack Obama, Biden’s use of executive power predictably prompted some conservatives to cry foul.
“Biden campaigned on `unity,’ but his first actions immediately reveal his true priority is the agenda of the far Left: to remake America,” the conservative Heritage Foundation said in a statement.
And there lies a real problem facing Biden and his new administration. When he delivers on his campaign promises, he will make some Americans more comfortable and hopeful, feelings that have been in short supply the last four years, while others will be uncomfortable and angry.
To find the path of bipartisanship to enact his $1.9 trillion emergency relief package and other legislation in the closely divided Congress, Biden will need the negotiating skills he honed during his career of legislative experience. He’ll also need to compromise at times, which likely will anger some in his own party.
But on Day One, the new president sounded the right symbolic notes:
n ---The somber and lovely memorial of 400 lights at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool for 400,000 lives lost to the coronavirus
n ---The optimistic, if scaled-back and locked-down, swearing-in ceremony with former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton showing bipartisan support
n ---Performances by the incredible Lady Gaga and J-Lo; the poem by 22-year-old Amanda Gorman
n ---The normal and sane first Biden press briefing at the White House.
All were breaths of fresh air.
After the mayhem and drama, our democratic system held. We had a peaceful transfer of power.
In his address, Biden exuded decency, calm and competence – and emphasized he and we should value truth.
“We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” he said.
Vice President Kamala Harris sends a message to “little girls and boys across the world” that “anything and everything is possible,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said.
Biden asked every American to give him a chance and join in fighting our mutual foes – “anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.”
Speaking directly to those who opposed him in the election, he said: “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.”
Peaceful dissent is one of America’s great strengths, he said.
Biden was right to insist on holding the inauguration outdoors, despite the threats of violence. He now needs to conquer an invisible foe, the coronavirus.
Requiring masks in all federal buildings and federal land and by federal employees and contractors is an important step. He challenged all Americans to wear masks for 100 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s literally the least we can do.
He also wants to expand testing and speed vaccinations. The pitifully slow rollout of vaccines is a disgrace that undermines confidence in our government.
When most of Americans are vaccinated, we’ll begin to go about our business, the economy will recover and people will feel good about the future. We might even unify.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.