President Joseph R. Biden.
Weighed against another four years of President Donald Trump, it was a reasonable choice. Committed leftists and registered Republicans alike saw this vote as a necessary bit of harm reduction. At the very least, you need a chief executive who plays the part. When Trump wasn’t actively abusing his position, he was fucking around like every overpromoted scumbag with a nice office, incognizant of those duties that held no promise of personal gain. Whatever Biden does in the coming term, we can expect him to look and sound like he’s making an effort.
For many, this will be an excuse to breathe easy and detach from the news cycle. Trump’s off Twitter, too, so the legions of Resistance repliers don’t have the pleasure of telling him “sir, this is an Arby’s” a dozen times a day. The well-off liberal who dreamed of a return to brunch in the tranquility of a boring political epoch — one whose outrages are written in smaller, less garish fonts — can free up some brain space for apartment design and that podcast idea they had. You might tell this person that nothing is solved by the ceremonial transition of power, but it’s futile: Anyone who spent the last administration obsessing over Trump as an “unprecedented” threat to the American way of life must see Biden taking the oath as a triumph and glorious new dawn.
Will I be relieved to watch Trump slither away? Of course. Afterward, though, I will continue to share a country with millions who revere him — a hardened bloc that isn’t going anywhere. We cannot predict the reaction of the radicalized fringe still hoping he’ll declare martial law and start executing Democrats in the public square. The language of white supremacy, which carried Trump to the White House, is thoroughly mainstream. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are to step into their jobs before flags representing the crowd that could not assemble due to a pandemic killing thousands from coast to coast. Washington, D.C. is already locked down as if the fascist coup had succeeded, with transit in and out restricted or frozen, rental bookings suspended and 25,000 National Guard troops deployed, a larger military presence than we have “in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined.” As far as celebrations go, this one is rather grim.
It isn’t just pessimism about what Biden stands to accomplish, though plans to accommodate Republicans in a divided Senate and a perplexing reduction in the next round of stimulus checks are surely dispiriting omens. It’s that the dystopian aura of our time hasn’t lifted, yet the pundits, celebrities and influencers all seem to demand an outpouring of hope and joy as he takes command, some great spiritual reawakening of the American superego. In their eagerness for Biden to roll back the worst policies of his predecessor — themselves mostly rollbacks of Obama’s policies — they often sidestep the damage that cannot be undone, the scarring legacies of Trumpian rule. If his supporters and GOP enablers remain, and continue in his footsteps, neither can we pretend that the second half of the last decade didn’t happen.
Naturally, the people cheering Biden the loudest, and expressing faith in his ability to sweep away every last vestige of Trumpism, are not keen to hear him criticized. Because the 45th president divided us into mirrored realities — his universe of howling bullshit versus Democratic fanfiction predicting his inevitable downfall — we now face the prospect of a “Blue MAGA” era, in which Biden will enjoy the same fixed loyalty from his base that Trump did, regardless of failures, lies or scandals. To hardcore Biden boosters, any complaint made of his incumbency is tantamount to endorsement of the Trump alternative, and therefore seditious.
Their zeal for a united front, and their cultish denial of the Democratic Party’s mistakes, may further arrest the glacial progress toward an equitable or sustainable society. Government should, in theory, effect needed change and improvement for those it represents. For both Red and Blue MAGA, however, it’s a spectator sport, and all that matters is the win. Owning, trolling or triggering the rival team, drinking their delicious tears. Racking up retweets, expanding the brand.
We must not be afraid to hold Biden to account, nor to acknowledge the darkness and gloom that accompany his first speech as president. You’re not crazy to realize that the manifold crises created or worsened by Trump won’t dissolve at the stroke of noon as words are recited over the Bible. It’s fine to not feel better when Biden addresses us, waxing patriotic and saying what he believes to be possible for America. You don’t live in the possible. You are here in the world, and you have the right to be heard even after you’ve ousted a repulsive villain in favor of “the good guy,” especially if you dare to find flaws in this successor and his allies.
A bedtime story may have a happy ending, but history goes on and on, strange and sharp and almost never comforting. Whoever the president may be, we are the ones to help each other through it.