Biden's inauguration: A prayer for a new administration - opinion

Biden must do what he promised to do – lead from the Center, restore consensus, nurture America’s soul.

JOE BIDEN reacts while delivering remarks last week at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware during a televised speech on the current economic and health crises. (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
JOE BIDEN reacts while delivering remarks last week at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware during a televised speech on the current economic and health crises.
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
As Joe Biden becomes president, he certainly could use God on his side. His campaign promised to heal America’s soul – only to watch Donald Trump brutalize America further with his months-long temper tantrum as sore-loser-in-chief. As daunting as the presidency seemed when Biden won, it will be that much more trying now.
Or not. True, America just absorbed a violent assault; true, the body politic’s scars are now more visible, exemplified by the desecrated Capitol; but there’s also a tremendous opportunity here. Trump and his fake-triots overplayed their hand. Biden could help pull most Americans back from the precipice, having seen what happens when we let partisanship cascade out of control.
To do that, Biden must do what he promised to do – lead from the Center, restore consensus, nurture America’s soul. He should resist the Democratic Party impulse to go Left, be woke, exploit its congressional majority. To do that, he will have to win an internal party debate about how to interpret Rahm Emanuel’s warning not to let “a serious crisis go to waste.”
The question, as Biden begins, is which crisis? Underlying that is the deeper question, what’s gone so wrong in America recently?
Biden must start with the corona crisis as a health and economic challenge. But in a country that transformed mask-wearing into a political flashpoint and a moral statement, Biden must address America’s soul crisis simultaneously, as a prelude to truly progressing economically and medically.
Biden has to transcend toxic media dynamics. Over the last two hyper-partisan decades, and especially with social media’s rise, far Right and far Left have dominated and distorted American politics. Proving that “knife sharpens knife,” the clash – which attracts inordinate coverage – further polarized the extremes. Illiberal liberals rule the mainstream media, the universities and, increasingly, the hi-tech and corporate elites. Meanwhile, unpatriotic patriots rule their own media echo chamber.
Trump presided only over Trumpville, the fake-triots. The media expected the Democratic nomination campaign to be a fight to rule Woke-land. Instead, Biden mobilized the party’s silenced majority. Now, as millions of decent Americans recoil from Trump and his wrecking-ball presidency, Biden must woo the Republican Party’s silenced majority, too – healing America from the Center out, not from the extremes in.
IN THAT spirit, this week, may Americans of all faiths utter this prayer:
Dear Lord,
As Joe Biden takes the oath of office, may he be president of all Americans, not just those who voted for him. May he interpret his oath to protect the Constitution broadly, expansively, generously, understanding his responsibility to adhere not just to the letter of the law but to the spirit of the law; to preserve not just the formal, visible presidency, but the informal, invisible presidency: America’s traditions, values, sensibilities.
Biden rises as America’s second Catholic president – recalling how harsh Americans’ prejudice against his religion once was – with Kamala Harris as America’s first black and female vice president. May both function as president and vice president to all Americans, trying to fulfill Martin Luther King’s vision of a society wherein we are judged not by the color of our skin – or the similarity of our beliefs – but by the content of our character. And let us all commit to nonpartisan nonviolence, meaning that the Left doesn’t justify riots in the name of “justice” and lie about “mostly peaceful protests,” while the Right doesn’t justify riots in the name of Trumpian lies.
O Lord, please inspire us to “choose unity” as George Washington did, seeking true truths, not partisan ones; agreeing to agree on some things, not just disagree disagreeably on everything; understanding that healthy politics requires cultivating the art of the compromise, not just going for the jugular. Let us stop making every issue an existential fight to the death, instead transforming most issues into opportunities to work on living together.
Let’s start recognizing our true enemies as those foreign dictators and terrorists and demagogues who threaten us, not our fellow citizens whose differences we might find threatening. But let us all put politics aside when fighting the enemy from within, those few Americans who command too much attention and whose confidence that they are right leads them to ignore the rights of others to dissent. Let us cancel cancel culture as we totally free ourselves from totalitarian bullying. Let us remember John Dewey’s lesson that democracy begins in conversation – and true conversation requires listening, absorbing, digesting, learning, not just talking and shouting.
Finally, during this health emergency, let us remember how we Americans rallied together to win the American Revolution and World War II, to build the world’s first mass middle-class civilization and reach the moon, to counter 9/11 terrorism and unleash the creative sparks that modernized the world. Let us remember that we are no richer than the poorest of the poor among us, no healthier than the sickest of the sick, no happier than the unhappiest of the unhappy, no more respected than the most disrespected of the neglected and oppressed among us.
So as we fight this invisible disease, let us assert those mystical bonds that unite us as humans, as liberal democrats, as Americans, in our ongoing quest to live in a country in which every one of us views our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as a promise fulfilled, not a historic vow broken.
Come to think of it, most of those sentiments would work in a prayer for Israel, too!
The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.