Irish Examiner view: Biden presidency a chance to turn page and be hopeful

Four years ago, we heard Donald Trump announce that 'the American carnage ends now'. Joe Biden is taking over in the White House with a country divided and with much on his plate
Irish Examiner view: Biden presidency a chance to turn page and be hopeful

President-elect Joe Biden ahead of his inauguration today. Picture: Matt Slocum/AP

It is a foible that we don’t always realise we are enjoying, on one plane or another, a golden age. This morning, as the coronavirus garotte tightens, it may seem difficult to argue that this is a golden age for anything. 

However, historians will, in time, assure our children and grandchildren that this was indeed such a period. 

Unfortunately, any joy that provokes today is tempered as this era can be seen as a halcyon time for hostage-to-fortune political speeches. 

There are other valid descriptions of that misleading behaviour but convention, and politeness, preclude such directness. 

British businesses, and especially hauliers or commercial fishermen, trying to cope with the dead-hand of Brexit may well scratch their heads and wonder how they swallowed Boris Johnson’s sunny-uplands, Britain-unchained guff. They might, however, find a small degree of comfort by comparison — things are usually worse somewhere else. And they are, or were.

Four years ago, in Washington DC, Donald Trump made a disturbing inauguration speech promising that “the American carnage ends now”. Though that promise was as bizarre as his claim that the crowd that day was the “biggest ever”, it must rank among the greatest hostage-to-fortune exaggerations this century. 

Those claims nevertheless set the tone for the grim, post-truth presidential term that followed.

Today, as his successor Joe Biden is sworn in, Washington is more like bandit-country South Armagh was 40 years ago, than the stable, coherent, celebratory capital of the world’s pre-eminent democracy. 

Around 20,000 troops patrol that city to dissuade the Trumpistas who stormed the Capitol building on January 6. That such an exercise is necessary must appal all democrats. The prospect of that force being used is an utterly appalling vista rooted in Trump’s incessant lies.

Yet that, and nearly 400,000 Covid-19 deaths, are the primary elements of Trump’s legacy. His destruction of the Republican Party is significant too. Trump has misled and divided the party in such a visceral way that it may take years, if it is to be achieved at all, for that party to resume its place as a reliable player in politics. 

Riot shields are stacked at the ready as National Guard troops reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington yesterday. Picture: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Riot shields are stacked at the ready as National Guard troops reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington yesterday. Picture: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

It may be that the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has become so riddled that it is too compromised to be salvaged. Anyone who imagines that the implications of that schism can be confined to the Republicans, or even the US, is dangerously naive.

Trump’s tenure was a reminder, too, of why vulgarity was for so long seen as a mark of dangerous ignorance.

Trump’s absence from today’s ceremonies, and his wife Melania’s decision not to observe the bridge-building tradition of showing her successor Jill Biden around the White House’s private quarters, epitomise that. 

It seems fitting too that, as his transactional presidency ends,  stories of presidential-pardons-for-sale — one had a price tag of €2m — have emerged. What a wonderful irony it would be if his tawdry legacy changed indifference to narcissistic boorishness.

As last week’s events in Ireland showed, retrospection can be a painful experience, but if an American presidential inauguration, even a pandemic-constrained one, is about anything, it is about renewal, about hope. It is about looking forward. 

That Joe Biden, who faces an inestimable challenge, brings Kamala Harris to the White House with him is a glass-ceiling moment of huge significance in gender and race terms. This is especially important as Biden is nearly 80 and Harris may, in time, face demands beyond those imposed on any vice-president since 1963.

President Biden will have many challenges: The pandemic rejuvenating America’s economy, and healing deliberately driven divisions will be paramount on his domestic agenda. 

However, from a global perspective, from the perspective of Europe and America’s oldest friends, a renewal of the relationships and common purpose — rejoining the Paris climate accord, for instance — cannot be more welcome.

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