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

One-time NC journalist talks turkey (and barbecue) on the Confederate flag

John Micek

I’ve gotten a few letters from readers over the past couple of weeks, who, upon reading my constant (and wholly justified) criticism of President Donald Trump, have asked me—some more politely and in publishable terms than others—if I have anything nice to say at all.

So, critics, write down the day. I am about to say something nice. Treasure this moment. Clip this column. Put it on your refrigerator at home.

The Pentagon did the right thing last Friday when it announced a new policy effectively banning the display of the Confederate battle flag at military installations around the country.

The decision, announced by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, is admittedly imperfect. It lists the kinds of flag that are permissible: the American flag; the flags of U.S. states and territories as well as Washington D.C; military flags and those of allies, according to Politico. It specifically leaves out the Confederate flag, which, by inference, is banned.

As Politico notes, the half-a-loaf solution is intended to satisfy military leaders who have been pushing for the change and to avoid irritating Trump, who continues to insist that flying the banner of racists and traitors who once enslaved 13.4 percent of our current population is a matter of “freedom of speech.”

That’s a notion so ridiculous on its face that I could spend an entire column on that topic alone. It’s not freedom of speech. It’s an explicit endorsement of the horror that was visited upon our fellow Americans. The Civil War was fought to preserve slavery. Period.

Now before my southern readers proclaim, “You’re just an ignorant Yankee, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I offer this rebuttal, in the mid-1990s, I lived and worked in North Carolina. I treasure my time there. And all these years later, I still carry traces of my time in the south in my bones.

Don’t believe me?

I still pull over for funeral processions. I still call people older than me whom I don’t know “sir” or “ma’am,” until I’m instructed in how they wish to be addressed. I know there’s only one correct answer when a southern woman offers you iced tea—“Yes, ma’am.” And the tea is sweet enough to turn your teeth to dust. None of the unsweetened stuff we drink up north.

And I know there’s only really good kind of barbecue—Lexington. Fight me on it. Read more

Report: The pandemic wiped out 1.3M local gov’t jobs in just two months

While the most recent federal jobs report pointed toward a labor market that might slowly be rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic, one segment of the labor market was notably absent from that bounce, and it’s one that impacts Americans most directly.

Local governments shed nearly 1.3 million jobs in April and May, according to an analysis by the National Association of Counties. The bulk of those losses, 310,000 positions, came from the education sector, according to the report.

(Source: National Association of Counties)

But, “another 177,000 jobs were non-education jobs such as healthcare practitioners, social workers, law enforcement officers, maintenance crews and construction workers,” the report found, as it tallied a loss of 523,000 non-education jobs since the nation went into lockdown in March.

“Individuals in these jobs are directly responsible for providing essential services and resources to counties, many of which are amid the ongoing public health crisis, subsequent economic hardship and civil unrest,” the analysis concluded.

(Source: National Association of Counties)

These losses come as local and county governments, like other sectors of the economy, have seen a cratering of their tax revenues. Counties have lost $114 billion in revenues, according to the analysis.

“As counties wrestle with financial realities, many are forced to furlough workers, pause nonessential capital projects and rework depleted budgets while continuing essential services to residents,” the analysis concluded.

As a result, some 120 counties “have been forced to furlough or lay off a share of the county workforce due to COVID-19 budget impacts, though many more counties are expected to have enacted similar measures,” the analysis found.

John Micek is the editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story was first published.

Here’s the danger at the heart of Trump’s meddling in the judiciary

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was absolutely right about this much: President Donald Trump has learned his lesson. And he’s learned it by heart.

Thanks to the Senate’s cowardly abdication of its responsibilities two weeks ago, the Republican president now feels absolutely emboldened to trample on what few constitutional norms remain standing in Washington D.C.

In the barely 14 days that have elapsed since Collins, of Maine, and her fellow Republicans acquitted Trump on the two impeachment articles sent over from the U.S. House, the authoritarian-in-chief purged the White House of perceived critics; demanded a reduced prison sentence for a crony (with the apparent acquiescence of his own attorney general); and declared Friday that he has “a legal right” to intervene in court cases.

Writing in the Washington Post on Friday, columnist Eugene Robinson compared Trump’s Washington to the banana republics he’d covered during a four-year stint as the newspaper’s South American correspondent from 1988 to 1992.

“There has been considerable hyperventilation, some perhaps by me, about the grave harm Trump is doing to our democratic institutions,” Robinson wrote, adding that he was not hyperventilating now. “Public faith in justice is a delicate, precious thing. Once squandered, it is incredibly hard to regain.”

I’m not hyperventilating now either. There is a profound difference between the daily, schoolyard bullying that’s sadly become just a routine part of the former reality television star’s administration, and his direct, incredibly damaging, and ongoing assault on the judiciary.

It’s already well-established that when Trump isn’t treating the law like his personal plaything by issuing pardons to such friends and supporters as former Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he’s insulting or undermining judges and courts he believes should bend to his will.

That includes U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump disparagingly referred to as “Mexican” in 2018, despite the fact that Curiel was born in Indiana. Trump has also used the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, as a personal punching bag because it’s dealt Trump a series of legal setbacks on some of his most radioactive proposals.

“I mean, it’s really sad when every single case filed against us is in the 9th Circuit,” Trump told a gathering of governors at the White House in 2018, according to CNN. “We lose, we lose, we lose, and then we do fine in the Supreme Court. But what does that tell you about our court system? It’s a very, very sad thing.”

What it would tell anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the judiciary is that the system is working. Courts follow law, and they follow precedent, not the political whims of whoever’s sitting behind the Resolute Desk, or whichever party commands a majority on Capitol Hill.

That’s why it was possible in 2008, for instance, for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom no one would mistake for a fire-breathing progressive, to simultaneously declare that, while the U.S. Constitution provided for an individual right to bear arms, the government still had a compelling and legitimate role in regulating them. Read more