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Joe Biden’s inauguration speech sounded as if it had been written by a good angel on one shoulder and a bad angel on the other.
Just as his life has been marked by extraordinary good fortune vying with extraordinary tragedy, each angel whispered in his ear yesterday to dictate dueling paragraphs.
The good angel called for “unity” and “truth,” all the things a battered nation is longing to hear.
The bad angel said the precise opposite, whipping up hatred for the mythical new bogeyman of “white supremacy and domestic terrorism.”
The good angel asserted herself a few moments later: “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.”
Amen. If only.
But then the bad angel popped up with the ugly accusation that America is divided by “racism, nativism, fear, and demonization” on the one side and the “American ideal that we are all created equal” on the other.
No prizes for guessing which side Biden and his team think 74 million Trump supporters are on.
The good angel did manage to prevent any overt criticism of Donald Trump.
But the bad angel slipped in hints about the awfulness of the vanquished president, and the message hung heavily over an inauguration ceremony attended by fewer civilians than soldiers.
Biden’s line that “we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” was a product of the good angel.
Unfortunately, the bad angel soon got hold of Biden’s ear again, declaring that only the “recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson.
“There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit . . . We face an attack on democracy and on truth.”
It’s clear he’s referring to Trump’s claims since November that the election was stolen and he actually won in a landslide.
Sure, that went too far, and precipitated the storming of the Capitol. But you can’t erase the context of four years of malicious lies and fantastic conspiracy theories manufactured against Trump.
This time four years ago the Russia conspiracy theory was well entrenched, the Steele dossier was in circulation and reporters at papers of record were sullying journalism.
When it came to Trump, no lie, rumor or conspiracy theory was too outlandish for the fourth estate.
It’s ironic that people in the business of sharing ideas now want to silence people who don’t think exactly like them. They believe they are unbiased and hold the mortgage on truth but fail to understand that it is their insularity and lack of empathy with diverse opinions that creates discord.
We also could have done without Biden’s pessimism on the coronavirus, which the good angel surely counseled was needlessly depressing, as vaccines work their magic across the country.
The last thing we want to hear about is “this winter of peril . . . this dark winter . . . the toughest and deadliest period of the virus.”
The good angel did her best work toward the end.
“I will be a President for all Americans,” said Biden. “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
Such a noble sentiment couldn’t quite pass without an edit from the bad angel, who injected an ominous hint: “if you still disagree, so be it.” Take my unity or leave it, in other words. Your loss.
But soon all was sweetness and light again, as the good angel told us that unity is possible: “If we show a little tolerance and humility. If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment.”
Amen to that.
No doubt Biden-friendly media operatives will highlight only the work of the good angel as they assess Biden’s speech. It was enough for Fox News’ Chris Wallace gushingly to declare it the finest inauguration speech he had heard in his life, wishful thinking if ever you’ve heard it.
In the end, Biden’s speechwriters probably gave him an authentic product in keeping with his campaign habit of saying two contrary things at the same time, such as being for and against defunding police.
But a speech is just words, and what will count is whether Biden’s deeds as president are unifying.
He preached unity on the steps of the Capitol, but the executive orders he signed that afternoon said otherwise.
Canceling Trump and all his works looks like cutting off America’s nose to spite her face. Nowhere is that more evident than in the repudiation of Trump’s border protection measures, which already is setting up a disaster south of the border.
Nor is there anything unifying in the spiteful impeachment which is rolling on to the Senate without a murmur of criticism from Biden.
At least there were no bad angels on the shoulders of the Jesuit priest and Biden confidante Rev Leo Donovan yesterday, when he gave the opening prayer of the inauguration.
“For our new president, we beg of you the wisdom Solomon sought when he knelt before you and prayed for ‘an understanding heart so that I can govern your people and know the difference between right and wrong.’ ”
Yes, Biden will need an understanding heart and the wisdom of Solomon to reject the counsel of all the bad angels crowding into his orbit.
Every president deserves a chance to prove his detractors wrong.
Let us hope America prevails.
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