Competence and Compassion and Truth Are the Promises of the New Administration
AFTER THE RAIN: For someone who spent the last four years looking for banana peels to dance on, Wednesday morning was a good moment to be alive. Joe Biden gave serious cause for serious hope. Not the carney blarney kind, but the real kind. Something from the heart.
Admittedly, I’ve always been susceptible to Biden’s undeniably Irish-Catholic schtick about hope and redemption. But I figure anyone who can quote James Joyce, riff on St. Augustine, and praise the importance of truth, all within 24 hours, while not coming across like a nauseating fraud is someone who might be able to deliver the goods.
Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, got my attention the day before when I saw them speaking by the base of the Reflecting Pool leading to the Washington Monument. They were acknowledging the enormity of grief that the COVID pandemic had already caused and the oceans of tears that were yet to be shed. I was not moved so much by anything that they said as by the fact that they were so obviously moved. They were there.
Compassion and empathy, by themselves, are never enough. They are, however, essential.
It was a powerful display. It was an even more welcome departure from the four years prior.
But so too is Biden’s pledge to deliver 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days. We’ll see what he can do. But if the last four years have demonstrated anything, it’s that competence counts. By any reckoning, Biden and Harris appear to have assembled an extremely competent — and seasoned — team.
Competence and compassion? I could get used to it.
We all could.
Earlier that same day, I had attended yet another virtual press conference at which beleaguered County Public Health administrators explained — yet again — how there aren’t enough vaccines for everybody.
This week, we surpassed the 400,000-death milestone. Milestones, by their nature, are arbitrary markers to give meaning to the arbitrariness of despair. This one hit me. Santa Barbara County has roughly 400,000 people. When the number surpasses 500,000 at the end of February — as we are told it will — it will be some other county.
Looking at Biden and Harris at the Reflecting Pool — each side lined by twin rows of low-glow lamps — it was clear that they got it. Biden famously has gone down the wood-chipper of life face first more than a few times. His story is known. Somehow, he managed to come out the other end.
The presence of a leader like that has been sorely missing.
Our previous president — during his inaugural address four years before — spoke of “the American carnage.” In four years, he delivered just that. His White House spokesperson introduced the world to the concept of “alternative facts.” We have been living with the consequences ever since.
Meanwhile, our county health officers — getting back to that press conference — explained they barely had enough vaccines to start administering vaccines to people 75 years old and older, let alone people 65 years old, as they had been ordered to by state public health administrators. That state order had, in turn, been incited by federal health administrators, who — we now know — have been playing bait-and-switch with us when it comes to vaccine inventory. The very same time the feds started pushing states to vaccinate 65-year-olds, it would emerge, the federal vaccine stockpile had been massively depleted and was much smaller than state and county officials had been led to believe.
Competence and compassion?
When you’re living in a war zone, we all need bulletproof vests.
For Joe Biden — the oldest man ever to be elected president — and Kamala Harris — the first Black and Asian American woman to be elected vice president — I wish for them everything. Their future does not depend upon it. My present does.
It is gratifying to hear now how Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has seen fit to accuse Donald Trump of provoking the mob — I prefer to refer to them as a “white wilding” — by lying to them repeatedly that the election was stolen. Perhaps such statements might embolden the 17 Republicans necessary for impeachment to find their conscience. That needs to be dispatched of as quickly as possible.
It would have been preferable had McConnell — or any of the other Republicans now expressing shock over the Siege at the Capitol — spoken up about our forced diet of alternative facts and alternative realities over the last four years. Without that, we never would have seen such an emboldened mob scaling the Capitol walls like a horde of fast-moving zombies, crapping on the Capitol floors, and occupying Capitol offices.
McConnell, of course, used Trump and his alternative realities to shrewd strategic advantage, getting 234 new conservative-minded, anti-choice, anti-regulation, and anti-civil-rights judges appointed.
McConnell’s contempt for Trump — America’s Il Duce — was always obvious. Trump thought he could rule simply by waving his arms about and calling people names; thankfully, he had no appetite for the discipline, hard work, and curiosity required to actually govern. That’s no doubt why he never crafted his much-promised alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
Even in disgrace, Trump enjoys approval ratings of 38 percent. We are told by the pollsters that half of Trump supporters believe the election was stolen. The good news, I suppose, is that last week, the number was closer to 75 percent.
Trump’s appeal will be endlessly dissected. Yes, he was a bully and would-be emperor. But he could also be funny. He was blessed with the gift of all demagogues — the ability to speak convincingly, angrily, and protectively for those about whom he cares not at all.
If Trump was the answer, can someone tell me, what was the question?
People who dismiss his supporters as merely stupid do so at their own peril.
Here’s a little factoid. For the past three years, the average life expectancy in the United States has been actually declining. Drug overdoses, suicides, and death by alcoholism and obesity have outnumbered all the lifesaving medical and regulatory advances in dealing with cancer, heart attacks, car crashes, and AIDS. Trump, it turns out, has done best in counties and states where these trends have been the worst.
Joe Biden, I’m pretty certain, gets this too. Not with the angry racist demagoguery of Trump. But with pragmatic and programmatic compassion. Maybe he can help us all turn down the volume. And maybe we can create a new alternative reality in which we agree as to basic facts.
Maybe I say that because I have to.
For the moment, it feels like a new day.
Maybe it has to be.
At the end of the prior president’s inauguration — the one all about “American carnage” — former president George W. Bush commented to Hillary Clinton — whom he was seated next to — “Well, that was some weird shit.” Bush also declared the wrong war against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. American troops dispatched to Baghdad sought refuge in the protection of the “Green Zone.” In order to ensure a peaceful transition of power in our country, we just erected a Green Zone in our nation’s capital. No fewer than 25,000 National Guard troops were dispatched to prevent the crawling zombies and white nationalists from attacking the proceedings. By any historical reckoning, that qualifies as “some weird shit,” too.
Let’s hope and pray our Green Zone remains a temporary aberration.
In the meantime, congratulations and Godspeed to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. With or without the banana peels, today is a good day to dance.