Let’s Hear It For the Return of Decency

5 mins read

I feel something I haven’t felt in four years. It’s called HOPE. I feel like a giant weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. My mood when I awake each morning is relieved, not fearful. I’ve even started catching up on my sleep.

I know my sense of relief isn’t universal. People are worried about what the outgoing president will do, or not do, over the next few months. Some Americans are unhappy with the election results. The coronavirus pandemic is out of control. Some vocal progressives have already started complaining that President-elect Biden isn’t progressive enough. 

But I’m filled with hope. I’m taking my lead from Biden, who is moving forward with his transition, calling for unity, and being the decent, caring person we need right now. While Biden wasn’t my first choice for the Democratic nomination, the last few months have shown me that he is the perfect president for our time, just like Republican Gerald Ford was the president we needed after Richard Nixon.

Forty-six years ago we were also divided. Some people thought Nixon was a criminal who was destroying our country. Others thought he was bringing patriotism and law and order back to the U.S. Both sides were in the streets demonstrating. As the facts about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal became known, many Nixon apologists refused to admit the obvious, the same way many Trump supporters won’t admit that he’s lost the election. 

Sometimes we don’t need a politician to be exciting or charismatic. When the country has been rocked by scandal, when its leaders have been proven to be less concerned with the people they are supposed to serve than the power they can wield, what we really need is decency. I saw this firsthand in 1974 when Gerald Ford, who had been appointed to the position of vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned, became president. At the time Ford was sworn in his remarks included the following: 

I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. That bond, though strained, is unbroken at home and abroad. In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

So while we face many problems that won’t magically disappear on January 20, 2021, we will have a president in Joe Biden, who like Ford, will tell us the truth. I believe the hallmarks of the Biden administration will be honesty, empathy, humanity and compassion. If America is to once again become Reagan’s “shining city,”  our leaders must work to reunite divided families, encourage and model safe behavior during the pandemic, provide affordable health care to everyone, and assist people whose lives have been damaged by the coronavirus and the resulting economic crash. We need to once again welcome immigrants and be worthy of the statue that greeted previous newcomers. In short, we need an administration that cares about the American people. As my colleague Rena Korb noted in a piece last July, “Biden may be the best political player to heal the country.”

I am not worried, and I hope that most Americans feel as hopeful as I do. While the Trump administration’s refusal to accept the inevitability of the transfer of power is a problem, I am reminded of the letter I received from President Gerald Ford just a few days before the 1976 election, when it was clear that Ford’s pardon of Nixon had all but guaranteed that Jimmy Carter was going to win. Instead of denying the obvious, Ford sent a letter to each member of the White House staff thanking us for our service. 

It is a letter from a decent man who put his country before his own personal ambition or interest. It’s a letter that the outgoing president would never write, but that I could see coming from a President Biden. I believe that once again, with the return of decency to our government “our long national nightmare” will soon be over.

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