Biden’s speech was a benediction — and the challenge of our times

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Joe Biden didn’t have to do a lot with his inaugural address Wednesday, just deliver a concise, clear speech that somehow knit together the soul of a deeply fractured nation; offer healing and comfort to the hundreds of thousands of Americans whose lives have been ripped apart by the COVID-19 pandemic, and sketch out a vision for the next four years that spoke to both Main Street and Wall Street.

In other words, no pressure.

But Biden, a politician with the soul of a parish priest, pulled it off, delivering a speech that appealed to the nation’s better angels, while never shying away from the titanic challenge of healing the gaping wound that his predecessor ripped in our body politic with four years of gaslighting, sledgehammer attacks on our institutions, and a social media presence where he was America’s schoolyard bully.

But where his predecessor nursed grievance and exacerbated division, Biden on Wednesday sought reconciliation and, perhaps, even a kind of forgiveness.

“And so today, at this time, in this place, let us start afresh. All of us. Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another,” he said in remarks that stretched an economical 20 minutes. “Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured.”

He didn’t mention Donald Trump by name. He didn’t have to.

Trump, the first president to skip an inauguration in 152 years, skulked out of Washington hours before Biden took to the stage at the U.S. Capitol. He left the city in much the same way he entered it, in a funk of self-aggrandizement and a barrage of self-serving falsehoods.

That graceless exit saw Trump try to deflect attention away from the defining facts of his legacy: More than 400,000 Americans dead from a pandemic he was too disinterested in to stop and the attempted coup d’etat he incited just two weeks before, leaving him the only chief executive in American history to be impeached twice by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Biden’s prayerful address, prefaced Tuesday night by a ceremony on the National Mall honoring the pandemic’s victims that was, by turns, beautiful, painful, and consoling, strained for connection for the American public. It was a reflection of a veteran pol who’s known for lingering for hours along a rope line, as he pulls out the life story from a stranger he’d met only moments earlier.

“We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs,” he said at one point. “We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”

The contrast with Trump’s dystopian “American Carnage” address, delivered four years, and several lifetimes ago, on the same spot, could not have been more stark. Read more

How Richard Burr can redeem himself now that he’s escaped federal prosecution

Richard Burr, appears to have pulled off a political Houdini trick. North Carolina’s senior U.S. Senator didn’t grab one of the scores of presidential pardons that Donald Trump was dispensing like candy yesterday in what appeared to be a kind of “going out of business/two-for-one” sale, but he did hear from federal prosecutors that they’re going to let last year’s troubling stock sales (which took place in and around the onset of the pandemic and a special briefing he received on the matter in his role as a senator) slide.

As the New York Times reported last night:

The Justice Department informed Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, on Tuesday that it would not pursue insider trading charges against him, quietly ending a monthslong investigation into his dumping of hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock in the turbulent early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision by the department effectively cleared a cloud of legal jeopardy that has loomed over Mr. Burr since the sales were first disclosed in March.

The news has to be a tremendous relief to Burr, who must now feel like he’s received a second lease on life. He’s gone from looking at the ignominy of removal from the Senate, losing his sweet pension and even serving time in prison, to returning to his normal position — that of a relatively inconsequential senator who’s spent more than a quarter-century in Washington to little effect, but who will retire from office when his term ends next year to a comfortable, country club life and, if he still wants it at age 67, a few lucrative years on the corporate lobbying circuit.

Of course, one also hopes it’s possible that Burr’s close call could inspire some more noble emotions and desires. Perhaps, after staring into the abyss for several grim months, Burr will have a Scrooge-like epiphany and realize that there can be more to life in Washington than padding one’s retirement accounts and doing the biding of the one percent.

Maybe, just maybe, Burr’s harrowing brush with the law will inspire him to devote the last two years of his his term to — dare we say it? — doing what’s right.

Could it be that, having gotten a second chance (and, by virtue of his announced retirement, no longer facing the pressure to placate the far right Trumpists in the GOP base), Burr might just align himself with other relative “moderates” in the GOP — Romney, Murkowski, Sasse, Collins — and help President Biden rescue the country?

Admittedly, it’s a long shot. The easiest thing for Burr at this point would be to fade back into comfortable, come-to-work-late-and-leave-early, backbench obscurity.

But it’s also clear to anyone paying attention that, while he is certainly no progressive, deep down, Burr is also not a fire-breathing Trumpist. Richard Burr has to know that Donald Trump’s presidency has been disaster for the country in innumerable ways and that it’s essential for the nation’s well-being that the new administration succeed in pursuit of its top four agenda items: overcoming the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, healing our nation’s racial divides and attacking the climate emergency.

After all, Burr has children and grandchildren. He has to want to leave them a nation and planet that are healthier than they are right now. And you’d also think he’d want them to remember him as someone who capped a lengthy career in Congress by, when the chips were down, putting true public service ahead of shallow personal and political expediency.

C’mon, Senator: How ’bout it — what have you got to lose?

In ad, Elmcroft Senior Living tries to profit from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has provoked a great deal of unseemly behavior in many places, but as Adam Searing of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families pointed out in a weekend tweet, a national senior living chain may have just taken the cake.

Oregon-based Eclipse Senior Living manages facilities in 25 states, including North Carolina, where it runs a dozen locations operating under the Elmcroft Senior Living brand.

Recently, in an apparent effort to recruit new residents when many people are understandably hesitant to enter congregate care (seven of the 12 Elmcroft locations in North Carolina are on the state’s most recent list of COVID outbreaks in congregate living settings), the firm bought online advertising in which it implied to prospective customers that they could gain priority for COVID vaccinations by moving into one of its facilities.

Searing saw the ad and copied it from a local news website.

As you can see at left, the ad read:

“This is your shot!…By making the decision to become a part of our community now, you’re also ensuring that you can receive the vaccine before millions of others.”

The company’s come-on is, in a word, revolting.

COVID vaccines (which are free of charge and for which seniors are already a priority) should be distributed exclusively pursuant to transparent public criteria and priorities – not the actions of companies who seek to profit by helping (or implying they can help) their customers to jump the line ahead of others.

Let’s hope the company takes down the ad immediately and that state official investigate if it doesn’t.

Scathing editorial sums up the disastrous Trump presidency

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Be sure to check out the lead editorial in today’s Winston-Salem Journal (“Trump’s legacy”) as it neatly sums up the carnage Donald Trump leaves behind as he ends — thank goodness — his disastrous presidency.

After noting that Trump, in typical fashion, is expected pardon a raft of pals/criminals on his final day in office, the editorial puts it this way:

It would be an unprecedented presidential act — in keeping with a president who has always done things his own way, a trait that still cheers his many supporters, who number among the millions and wish he had found some way to remain in office for another five or six terms.

As for tomorrow, he plans to leave for Mar-a-Lago in the morning, from where he’s expected to host a televised, open-air, open-faced political rally — at the same time as President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

It will be one more act of rudeness on the world stage.

Trump leaves a legacy unlike the one he promised. The nation is in turmoil, sharply divided by politics, race and other factors. We’re at the height of a pandemic that has killed nearly 400,000 Americans — one that, Operation Warp Speed notwithstanding, Trump failed to effectively counter. The national deficit is higher than ever. Trump’s signature border wall came up short, both in terms of length and effectiveness, as did its promised financing.

And there was a bloody attempted coup.

“American carnage” indeed.

He also leaves behind a legacy of profligate lying that none should try to emulate — but some will.

The editorial goes on to express the hope that the national Republican Party will now undergo a major self-assessment and move beyond its loyalty to Trump and the crazy conspiracy theories he helped feed, but this seems extremely optimistic. As it also notes, there’s been little sign of such movement amongst North Carolina GOP’ers. But one reckons it’s still worth hoping.

The bottom line: This is a time for national celebration. Our nation has excised a deadly and malignant figure from its national leadership, but it will take years of determined political chemotherapy to overcome the cancer that gave rise to him and that he helped spread.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Republican praise of Martin Luther King will sound even more hollow and hypocritical now

Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967 at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

There’s a long list of Republicans who ought not part their lips this holiday weekend to praise Martin Luther King Jr., to quote from his most famous speech or suggest in any way that they know anything about content of character. 

That list includes the 138 Republicans in the U.S. House and the six Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted to overturn the results of a free and fair election after a mob demanding that they overturn the election stormed the U.S. Capitol. The list also includes everybody who — at any point after the election was called for Joe Biden — suggested President Donald Trump’s defeat warranted investigation.

So, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. John Kennedy, Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. Clay Higgins, Rep. Mike Johnson, Rep. Garrett Graves, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, nothing from y’all about how much King means to you, OK? No tweets, no videos, no press releases. Not one word about how much King inspired you. Act like you’ve never heard of him or like you think of him with scorn.

In other words, do what you do when you’re craning for an affectionate pat on the head from Trump. Do what you do when you’re courting Trump’s “Lock Her Up” / “Build the Wall” / “Send Her Back” / “Lock Him Up” / “Fire Fauci” / “Stop the Steal” fanatics. Your posture toward Trump and his devotees reveals more of what you think about King and his work than a saccharine tweet about King’s greatness ever could.

Let us march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena,” King said in 1965 at the end of a long march from Selma to Montgomery. “Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”

There was a massive march to the polls Nov. 3 in the election that Biden won. Never before had more than 140,000,000 Americans voted, and in this election, 159,633,396 did. Georgians marched again on Jan. 5 when they elected two Democrats — a Black man and a Jewish man — to represent them in the U.S. Senate. 

There was also a massive backlash: Trump claiming that he’d been robbed (specifically by election officials in majority Black jurisdictions), Republican lawmakers endorsing the lie, Republican-controlled legislatures proposing more limited access to absentee ballots, a mob of bloodthirsty, murderous pro-Trump extremists forcing their way into the Capitol aiming to make Congress do its bidding.

American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery. (William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

Did our Republican lawmakers overcome their fear of Trump, their fear of Trump’s fanatics?  Did they find the courage, the decency, to do justly? No. In various ways and at various times, they disrespected American voters, specifically those Americans who may never have been voters without the movement King led.

Retired Tulane University history professor Lawrence Powell told the Illuminator last week that just like the murderous response to Black people getting elected during Reconstruction, last week’s ransacking of the U.S. Capitol followed the “promiscuous assumption that Black electoral politics are by definition riddled by fraud and illegal chicanery.”

So let us not hear any “Let freedom ring” platitudes from those who cast suspicion on Black people exercising the franchise. 

As ridiculously offensive as it would be for the Republicans who’ve been standing with Trump to suggest that they would have stood (and still do stand) with King, it’s no more ridiculous than Trump adviser Stephen Moore telling Wisconsinites upset with COVID-19 restrictions that “We need to be the Rosa Parks here and protest against these government injustices.”

Even more than Parks, King has become soft clay in the hands of White conservatives who continue trying to shape him into an anodyne speechmaker sent to forgive White people of racism, join hands with them and sing.

Those conservatives have not only tried to make King colorblind, they’ve tried to make him raceless, something other than a Black man who pledged a Black fraternity at a Black college, married a Black woman, pastored Black churches, led marches of mostly Black people and urged the Black audience listening to his very last speech to take their money out of White banks and put it in Black banks — and to reject their White insurance companies for Black ones.

None of that means White people and White institutions can’t support his cause. It means those who’ve been holding up an anti-Black President and pushing anti-Black policies don’t — and should stop pretending that they do.

King expressed disdain for “the white moderate” who, he said, called a “great stumbling block” to his cause. What do we think he’d make of the White conservative who wrongly labels Black votes fraudulent in support of the biggest fraud the White House has ever seen?

Jarvis DeBerry is the Editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, which first published this essay.