The Biden White House and the Democratic Senate face numerous substantive decisions in the coming days and months. But certain decisions, more procedural than policy, will set the tone and ground rules today and in the months and years ahead. They are critical. And they will have a profound impact on the breadth and success of policy-making over the next two and four years.
You’ll be familiar with these ground rules decisions in concept even if the particulars are technical and occluded in administrative and parliamentary jargon. In short, will resurgent Democrats use their lawful powers to enact their policy agenda or get wrong-footed and derailed by bad faith arguments from Republicans about norms, fairness, unity and the like? Will they be gamed into chasing Republican buy-in, the possibility of which will always be snatched away after it has served its purpose of forcing Democrats to fritter away time they need to deliver on election promises?
This was the great failure of Barack Obama’s presidency, one he fully grasped only late in his second term and after Republicans had used it to wrest away control of Congress and the Courts.
One year ago today the CDC announced the first case of COVID-19 in the United States.
Most of us weren’t going to believe it until we saw it.
Joe Biden set a tone yesterday evening to listen rather than speak, to speak through our silences. I will try to heed that as best I can with only some brief remarks as we rest at this threshold. Where do we go from here? What do we make of all this? A lesson for us to learn and absorb is resilience.
So many terrible things have happened over these four years, so many things were harrowing and unimaginable. Most became inevitable the moment the country took the fatal step of putting a sociopath at the helm of the state. We were here four years ago trying to imagine what would happen. Resilience and an ethic of optimism are not only good strategy. They are an ethical stance toward life and a way to survive whatever the world throws at us.
If you didn’t see the COVID memorial service this evening – part of Joe Biden’s larger inauguration program – you really should. It is remarkable, simply remarkable that we are almost a year into this horrible epidemic and this is the first national memorial or commemorative service honoring, remembering the dead.
It is a remarkable and a devastating commentary. I did not quite grasp this absence until I saw it. We’ve fought so much over this epic calamity. We’ve seen so much deflection, blame-shifting and lies. Biden’s comments, remarkably brief, were a reminder that much of what we need is in silence, remembering and memorializing this catastrophic loss. We are now at more than 400,000 Americans dead, roughly the total number of fatalities over almost four years of World War II.
The brief program included two songs: Amazing Grace and Hallelujah.
This quiet, devastating and hopeful memorial reminded me of the remarkable and wholly improbable journey of this song, Hallelujah, into something like a canonical song of memorial or pathos in American culture. That this should be so is actually quite odd, not least because it is not at all clear what the song, in its totality, is even about. And a number of things the song is quite clearly about … well, they are not what you’d expect in a song now treated as appropriate, uplifting and fitting for all occasions and audiences.
Mainstream or memorial versions commonly expurgate the song’s erotic imagery. But it can’t all be ironed out. This energy, rumbling rough under the simplified lyrics, gives a power and ballast even to the more sanitized versions. In any case the mixing and matching of lyrics is possible because Leonard Cohen wrote numerous different lyrics for the song. You can mix and match them and create your own version.
Mitch McConnell’s remarks today about Trump’s role in the insurrection on their face make it pretty clear he believes Trump’s guilty of impeachable offenses which merit removal from office and a ban on serving again in the future. Whether he would vote that way is another question. I think there’s basically no way he does not if he’s not certain of at least 17 other Republican senators ready to join him.
But there’s one thing that’s worth noting about this impending trial.
There are less than 24 hours left of the Trump administration.
And the President is leaving behind a sicker, more divided and more violent nation than the one he inherited four long years ago.
As we come to the end of this tragic saga, I realized that not many know or perhaps remember that there is an entirely separate scandal aside from the emoluments and self-dealing tied to Trump’s DC hotel. Long before he became President Trump scammed his way into the lease itself. He got the contract with a bogus bid and stalking horse financing. As soon as he won the contract, the stalking horse financing disappeared, as did the partners he promised to bring into the project. He then turned around and used the lease itself as collateral to get new financing from DeutscheBank. This was all basically known at the time. But it was when Trump was making his bones on the right as top birther. The GSA didn’t want to provoke a political fight with him (this was under Obama, remember) by voiding the deal.
I explained some of the details in this February 2018 post.
During his inaugural address, President Biden alluded to a mammoth, intractable task now facing the country: confronting a nascent, violent, far-right insurgency that coalesced behind Trump and the belief that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.