Out of the Tunnel

When Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States at noon on Wednesday, you could almost feel a great weight lifted off the shoulders of Americans from coast to coast. Somehow we got through four of the most ignominious years of any presidential administration in the history of the nation. And while we and our democracy have been badly battered, sickened and intentionally turned against not just each other but all conventions of ethical governance, we are not broken. We made it through that long, dark, and perilous tunnel, and now we go forward as a new day dawns in America.

It seems almost impossible to recall that only a week before the inauguration our nation’s Capitol had been stormed, people died and a violent, misguided attempt to stop Congress from certifying the electoral votes failed. Adding insult to injury, the most unpopular president in U.S. history — and his equally unpopular spouse — then peevishly ignored the inaugural to fleece the American people out of one last million-dollar ride on Air Force One.

One week later, with a shocking 25,000 National Guard men and women standing armed and ready to repel any further attempts at insurrection, the threats to disrupt the inauguration evaporated, and spectacularly at that. In fact, the very people who had participated in the Capitol’s desecration realized that they, like the American people, had been horribly misled by the serial liar in the Oval Office. As one Proud Boy posted to a right-wing website, “we got played.” And indeed, they surely did. While their “hero” fled, they were left to answer the knock on the door from the FBI and arrested for their part in the failed insurrection.

Due to the pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and is still raging out of control across the nation, President Biden was not able to enjoy the joyous crowds that would have undoubtedly filled the national mall to overflowing. But looking over a sea of flags to represent those that could not be there, he gave an inspiring inaugural address that has been called “one of the best ever” by any president — and he brought hope to a nation in desperate need of an uplifting message.

While Joe Biden is the oldest person ever to ascend to the presidency, it’s worth remembering that sometimes age and experience bring a perspective largely unattainable in one’s youth. Biden’s decades of experience in both the legislative and executive branches of government bring a certain wisdom of what works and what doesn’t in the delicate checks and balances of our democracy.

And unlike President Obama, with whom he served as vice president, Biden fully understands that the Democrat majorities in both chambers of Congress with which he now gets to work are ephemeral at best and must not be taken for granted or wasted in failed attempts to placate Republicans at every turn.

As the Republicans have so loudly crowed for the last four years, “elections have consequences” — and indeed they do. Biden is moving aggressively through executive orders to undo the “consequences” of the last presidential election, of which there are many. And while “unity” is being lauded, what we desperately need right now are good, sensible policies to take care of our people and planet — and if unity wants to come along for the ride, all the better.

Hang in there, fellow citizens! There’s no question we have daunting challenges to face — but our union is strong, hate has not triumphed, and we shall prevail.


George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.