President Joe Biden, optimist to the core, calls for an end to ‘this uncivil war’

President Joe Biden’s inaugural address was full of plain-spoken good sense. What a refreshing change.

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President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address Wednesday after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

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Bill and Hillary Clinton walked through the Capitol, hand in hand, and stepped out into the sunlight for the inauguration of a new president.

George and Laura Bush followed, walking together through the most sacred building of American democracy, a building that two weeks earlier was desecrated by a mob.

Barack and Michelle Obama came next.

How ordinary it was, how familiar and routine. Former American presidents and their spouses had arrived for another president’s inauguration, the 59th inauguration in 244 years.

We couldn’t get enough of it.

We felt a weight lift on Wednesday. We tried not to make too much of it, knowing what trouble our nation still is in. We didn’t want to be naive. We could still hear an echo in the Capitol rotunda of the half-baked insurrection of Jan. 6.

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But we felt an enormous sense of relief as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — how good that feels to write — took their oaths of office. We allowed ourselves to indulge, if only for a day, in the extraordinary optimism and faith in people at the heart of Biden’s character.

Who can really say where this country is going —sorry, Joe, for the note of doubt — but Wednesday in Washington was one fine day.

We’re only sorry that one other former president wasn’t there.

We’re speaking, of course, of Jimmy Carter.

Plain-spoken good sense

Biden’s inaugural address was nothing fancy. There wasn’t much in the way of memorable lines, such as President John F. Kennedy’s call for Americans to “ask what you can do for your country.” Nor was there much Obama-like poetry.

But there was also, thankfully, no stormy talk of “American carnage,” to quote a president we’d just as soon not mention by name today, and there was plenty of plain-spoken good sense.

Mostly, Biden talked about unity, which is old stuff. Football coaches preach unity. Drill sergeants preach unity. But, you know, sometimes the old stuff is the best stuff. It’s the timeless stuff.

We are a terribly divided nation, Biden said, and something has to give.

“The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do,” he said. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.”

And how do we do that?

“We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” Biden said. “If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say.”

No denying realities

Biden is no sucker. For all his optimism, he didn’t climb to the top in politics by denying ugly realities. And, along those lines, he condemned the most destructive lie in the country over the last three months — that somehow the presidential election was stolen — though he was circumspect about calling out the lie by name.

“There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit,” he said. “And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”

“We must reject the culture,” he said at another point, “in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”

We’re all for greater unity. Every disagreement, as Biden said, can’t be a “cause for total war.” But as we argued in an editorial yesterday, before there can be unity there must be accountability. It is difficult to imagine Democrats in Washington daring to trust and work with Republicans who, even now, continue to give credence to the baseless lie that the election may have been stolen.

Charge ahead

Until then, Biden and his fellow Democrats, who also now control both the House and Senate, have no choice but to press ahead on their own. Too many critical tasks, such as ramping up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, can’t be delayed while waiting for scoundrels to rediscover the concept of truth.

Biden began the charge with a flurry of executive orders on Wednesday evening, with more to come. Among other actions, he ordered that masks be worn on federal lands and that the United States rejoin the Paris climate accord, and he reversed a travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries.

Americans are deeply divided on issues such as these. Biden was getting blowback even before he signed the orders. But, as he said, we must find a way to disagree as neighbors.

“This is a great nation,” Biden said, “we are good people.”

It’s great to have a president who embodies those truths.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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