OPINION: Biden sets the tone for a new America, promises unity and compassion

A Biden flag is displayed at a presidential rally held earlier in the year. “To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity,” Biden said at his Inaugural Address. Photo courtesy of Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash.

Regardless of where you stand politically, we can all agree that the 2020 Presidential election was a historic event. Compared to Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s clear that the next four years under Joe Biden will likely be a stark contrast. I, for one, certainly hope they will be.

Living in the Trump era has by no means been easy. There was something new with him every day, as if turning on the news had somehow become equivalent to tuning into reality TV. It started even before he took office, when tapes of him making crude, misogynistic comments came to surface. And once he assumed his position as the 45th President of the United States, we had to watch him stand before the entire nation as he coolly told lies and and made blatantly obvious remarks degrading and ostracizing fellow Americans — the very same people he was meant to represent and lead. He continuously and knowingly encouraged conspiracy and allowed it to flourish. He silenced those who opposed him and threatened, whether directly or indirectly, those who dared to criticize him.

Even in his final weeks in office, Trump made sure to end his presidency unforgettable, inciting riots at the Capitol and becoming the first president in American history to be impeached twice. It was as if every move he made was meant to polarize the country even further, push the wedge dividing the country ever deeper until we reached a breaking point.

But that era is over now. As deeply as the last four years have been carved into the history of this nation and the memories of its people, it’s time to move forward — together.

President Biden expressed a similar sentiment during his victory speech that was delivered on November 7th, 2020.

“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States,” Biden said, calling back to the words of his former boss, former President Barack Obama.

He underscored just how dedicated he is to leading the country back to unity. In his eyes, among the several other issues he promised to battle during his term, returning to a middle ground takes priority.

During his campaign, Biden was criticized and ridiculed for hoping to work across the aisle. Several of his opponents during the Democratic primaries were not nearly as willing to reach out to Republicans, much less collaborate with them. But Biden did. He embraced his history of bipartisanship, which finally led him to victory after several tense weeks.

Perhaps, for that alone, his victory is historic. In a time of extreme polarization — a time when we are so incredibly divided that we refuse to even look each other in the face — Joe Biden, the “moderate” candidate, won.

But beyond recognizing just Biden’s contributions to the future of American politics, there are several other reasons why his victory was significant.

For one, voter turnout this year was higher than it has ever been in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, around 66% of the voting-eligible population cast ballots in the 2020 election, amassing a total of nearly 158.4 million ballots. There were several factors at play, each contributing to the high turnout, and by extension, Biden’s victory, in their own way.

Several young Americans, a majority of whom identify as liberal, exercised their right to vote for the first time in this historic election. Another contributor to the high turnout was the work of Stacey Abrams, whose organization Fair Fight Action played a large role over the past couple years to extend voting rights to people of color, especially black people. That diversity was key not only to helping Biden finish out the race on top, but to securing Democratic seats in Congress.

On a similar note, Biden’s running mate, now Vice President Kamala Harris, is the first woman, the first woman of color, the first Black person, and the first Asian (specifically South-Asian) person to take up the title.

In a way that few presidents have done in their victory speeches, Biden allowed his running mate to stand in the spotlight. He and his team recognized how much Harris’s new role meant to this country. More specifically, they knew what it meant for the millions of women and people of color to see someone like them standing in front of them, ready to lead the country forward.

In a country that boasts its diversity and prides itself on the amalgamation of the many different cultures it houses, there’s been a severe lack of diversity in its government. Given that there have been some advances in this regard during recent years, electing someone like Kamala Harris into one of the highest government positions holds significant weight, especially after an era in which racial tensions were at an all time high.

Surely, Harris taking on the role of Vice President will serve as an inspiration for many young girls and children of color across the country. They’ll grow up seeing someone who looks like them on screen, someone who broke the mold and refused to be bound by it. As a woman of color, her time in office will by no means be easy. We still hold double standards in this country, and there are no lack of sexist and racist people who will leap at every opportunity to drag Harris down. But hopefully, despite the odds being stacked against her, she’ll live up to the powerful and inspirational figure many currently see her as.

During his inaugural address on January 20th, Biden successfully established the first day of his presidency as a turning point in this country. The address was hopeful, inspiring, and most importantly, unifying.

In the wake of a horrific attack on the nation’s capital, Biden acknowledged how fragile democracy is when we don’t tend to it and nurture it. He bluntly stated that to some, hoping for unity seems foolish and naive at this point.

But he also warned that in unity’s absence, only terrible consequences can fester.

If we try to move forward without first healing the nation, we’re bound to rip it apart at the seams. The farther we push away from each other, the more the strings that hold the country together strain. The less willing we are to listen to each other and look one another in the face, to recognize that at the end of the day, there is some common ground that we can reach, the more likely we are to stray further away from who we as an American people are.

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” Biden said in his address.

For the many Americans who long for unity, Biden’s words struck the right tone and sent the right message. And while his speech established unification as a focal point of his presidency, Biden was sure to address the many battles he will have to lead the country through during his years in office.

By inviting two African American women (nurse Lori Marie Key and poet Amanda Gorman) to share their voices, both in music and in poetry, and by leading a silent prayer honoring the thousands of Americans who have lost their lives to the pandemic, Biden displayed his empathy — something that has been severely lacking in recent leadership.

Seeing as how many elected leaders are often out of touch with the lives that their constituents, everyday people, live, that empathy means a lot and it takes a lot. Biden’s comes from not just his age or time in office, but from the grief that comes with losing a wife and two children, one in childhood and the other in adulthood. It is with this empathy, compassion, and wisdom that we will take our first steps to renewal.

Throughout his campaign, Biden promised to be a president who represented all Americans. He promised to return America to a state of normalcy that it hadn’t seen in years. His address restated these promises, accepting that, despite the divided state the country is in, he will work diligently towards reuniting its people and emphasize the importance of unity.

But while his inaugural address was everything that it needed to be, that’s not to say that Biden or Harris are perfect for the job. In fact, they’re far from it.

Both have histories of injustice, and that is something we must not forget moving forward.

It was pointed out early in the primaries that Biden has racist and anti-black baggage. He advocated for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (perhaps better known as the 1994 Crime Bill), which contributed greatly to the surge in mass incarceration. While it may have done some good, the bill disproportionately affected African-Americans. Rather than acknowledging the law’s harmful effects, Biden continued to support and defend it, turning a blind eye to the suffering of the African-American community. In 2007, he described then presidential candidate Barack Obama as “articulate and bright and clean,” a dubious comment from which many detected racist undertones.

As for Harris, her record shows more than just the “progressive prosecutor” that people had come to expect of her. While supporting programs that helped people find jobs instead of being sent to prison, she pushed to keep people in prison even if they were innocent. She’s defended capital punishment in California. Eventually, she earned the nickname “cop,” a reference to her allegiance to a system that, through prison and policing, only harms African-American communities.

“Perhaps, for that alone, his victory is historic. In a time of extreme polarization — in a time when we are so incredibly divided that we refuse to even look each other in the face — Joe Biden, the “moderate” candidate, won.”

If the past four years have taught us anything, it’s that political figures should not and cannot be treated like celebrities. The moment we put them up on a pedestal and allow them to distance themselves from the rest of us, we have already fallen behind. The moment we turn a blind eye to their [downfalls, mistakes] and insist on seeing them in rose colored glasses, we’ve created another dent in the foundation of our democracy.

Hold them accountable for their mistakes. Don’t hold back on criticism.

It’s likely that the Biden administration will mess up somewhere along the line. But as the people leading our nation and promising to bring us into a new day, they need to be held responsible.

So far, though, Biden and his administration have shown promise. He’s spoken out against police brutality and made a point to condemn white supremacy, something that former President Trump was unable to do. He repealed the Muslim ban on his very first day in office and reversed Trump’s order banning transgender people from serving in the military. He’s brought America back into the Paris Accords and is working against an extremely short timeline to fight climate change and restore our planet. Perhaps most significant, however, has been his work against the pandemic. He has publicly consulted scientists and data to lead us through these difficult times, marking a return to trusting science and experts who will offer their input to bring us back to shore.

The tone Biden has set within these few weeks is one of diligence and urgency. He has risen to the challenges of today and made it clear that he intends on fulfilling the promises he made.

Sriya Veeramachaneni is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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