16 Takeaways From The Inauguration

America turns the page

(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

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And just like that… he’s gone.

Some quick (and pretty much random) takeaways from January 20, 2021.

  • Joe Biden’s speech may not have been (as Chris Wallace suggests) the greatest inaugural address ever. But it met the moment. Biden’s address was not focused on policy and had an apolitical aura, but it also was built around a coruscating critique of Donald Trump and the toxic post-reality culture of Trumpism. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility…”

  • The contrasts of the last 36 hours were stark. Petulance vs. graciousness. Mendacity vs. decency. Narcissistic sulks vs. empathy. The honeymoon won’t last of course, but yesterday seems to decisively turn the page.

  • “This is America’s day,” Biden declared. “A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve. . . . At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” This was the kind of speech that Republican presidents used to give. That now seems a distant, distant memory.

  • Trump’s stage-managed exit managed to make this small, bitter man, even smaller. His absence from the Inauguration, while undoubtedly welcome to all concerned, had the effect of air-brushing himself out of our political life. The scene of the ex-presidents at Arlington — while Trump sulked at Mara Lago — was a powerful symbol of his isolation and coming irrelevance. Basically, Trump himself declared that he didn’t belong there. And he didn’t.

  • The 1/6 attack was the backdrop to everything that happened. It made the symbolism of the day seem more important; the drama of a routine ceremony seemed suddenly urgent and fresh, because we knew it all represented something more fragile that we had ever imagined. Biden made the point explicitly and forcefully: “Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground,” Biden said. “It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.”

  • Memo to Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, talk radio: “We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” Biden said. “There is truth and there are lies — lies told for power and for profit.”

  • Sean Hannity calls the new president "the weak, the frail, the cognitively struggling Biden" – which reminds us that Hannity remains a retromingent propagandist, and a silly, unserious man.

  • The bipartisan remarks by GOP Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), celebrating the traditions of the Inauguration, were a magnificent troll of his fellow Republicans, perhaps especially his fellow Missourian, Josh Hawley.

  • The flags. Biden was intent on taking the flag — and the idea of patriotism and even American greatness — back from the MAGAverse. Two weeks ago, insurrectionists hoisted Trump flags in the Capitol. Yesterday, they were replaced with the symbols of democracy — and it felt like a moment of redemption.

  • Biden is serious about confronting white nationalism. In his speech, he specifically targeted “a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.” This was not just a throw away line. Remember: this is where his campaign started — a video about Charlottesville.

  • We now have a president who wears a mask. Imagine.

  • We now have White House press briefings that actually involve the transfer of information. Imagine.

  • A Black preacher, a Jew, and an Hispanic walk into… the Senate. And they were sworn in by the first African-American/Asian-American female vice president. That transition of power was obviously more than just symbolic.

  • A flurry of executive orders. Republicans may complain, but after four years of applauding Trump’s use of the orders, the GOP’s credibility on the issue is pretty much shot.

It was worse than you thought. Via CNN: “Biden inheriting nonexistent coronavirus vaccine distribution plan and must start 'from scratch,' sources say.”

The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus. But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration's Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.

"There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source said.

Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from "square one" because there simply was no plan as: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."

The narrative is getting messier. Antifa now going after Democrats and Biden.

Thanks for joining us last night! Some of us dressed for the occasion.

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Erratum: In yesterday’s newsletter I rather stupidly attributed a poem to William Wordsworth, when it was, in fact, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Thanks for pointing it out, although I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that more of you didn’t dunk on my mistake.

Quick Hits

1. Trump Failed. And So Did Trumpism.

James C. Capretta and Stan Veuger argue that Trump “was a failure in every way, substantively and morally.”

President Trump’s defenders are expressing anguish that his convulsive exit has tarnished his supposedly respectable record. Here is another oft-repeated deception demanding correction. Trumpism failed as much as Trump did. Not only was the now-former president a threat to the norms necessary for healthy democratic governance, his incompetent management of the federal government produced a remarkably thin legacy—and for that the country should be grateful.

Trump’s failures on policy are wide and varied. Much focus is, for understandable reasons, on the administration’s bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But to appreciate the failure of Trumpism as a political program, the former president should be assessed on what he did to address the two issues central to his political ascent: immigration and trade.

2. Here’s How the Impeachment Managers Can Win

Bryan Garsten, writes in today’s Bulwark:

Rather than spending time rehashing the many outrages of Trump’s years in office, as they might do when speaking to their own constituents or for the media, the House impeachment managers can bring the senators back to those moments of intensity in the Capitol and to their constitutional significance. They can attach the memory of fear to something higher, to a sense of indignation that all senators ought to feel at the way the chief executive treated what is supposed to be an equal branch of government. As I have written elsewhere, the former president offered one of the clearest examples of a violation of the separation of powers that can be imagined. This is the argument that Senator McConnell signaled his sympathy with on Tuesday when he remarked that the rioters provoked by the former president and other leaders tried “to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

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Cheap Shots

Rand’s self-own.

Rush, again, saving the very worst for last.

Evidence that Arizona has not completely lost its mind.

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Deep Thoughts

An Inaugural Address for America’s Defining Moment

Richard North Patterson has some thoughts on Biden’s speech.

Amid these perils, Biden struck the chords which dire necessity thrust upon Roosevelt and Lincoln—combining hope, resolve, candor, and moral clarity with an urgent plea for unity. Biden won’t be America’s last president. But his presidency may well be our last, best chance to summon our own better angels. In its first moments, Biden did his best.

“This is America’s day,” he began. “A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve. . . . At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

As for the task before him, he paraphrased Lincoln to assure us: “My whole soul is in it.” But he swiftly eschewed triumphalism—his country’s, or his own—in favor of determination.