Biden’s inaugural address: Unity call depends on beating the COVID pandemic

Biden becomes the 46th president — and Kamala Harris becomes the first vice president who is female, Black and of Asian descent — with 400,000 COVID dead in the U.S.

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COVID-19 Memorial Service Held In Washington On The Eve Of Biden’s Inauguration

Doug Emhoff, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Dr. Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden face the reflecting pool as they observe a moment of silence at a memorial for victims of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at the Lincoln Memorial on the eve of the presidential inauguration on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The presidential inauguration speech Joe Biden delivers Wednesday will be “built around the theme of unity,” his team said. Whether Biden can bridge our deep divides and rebuild trust in government — key to unity — depends entirely on Biden’s success in rescuing the nation from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Biden has been saying, the coronavirus crisis will get worse before it gets better.

Biden becomes the 46th president — and Kamala Harris becomes the first vice president who is female, Black and of Asian descent — with the nation in turmoil as the pandemic has claimed the lives of 400,000 in the U.S.

On Tuesday night, as the sun was setting over fortress Washington, with the city in lockdown two weeks after a mob of pro-Trump supporters attacked Congress, Biden and Harris paid tribute to the COVID dead at the Lincoln Memorial.

The reflecting pool was lined with 400 columns of amber lights as Biden spoke about healing the nation.

“To heal, we must remember,” said Biden. It is “important to do that as a nation.”

“Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we have lost,” Biden said. He turned to the lights, planted like tombstones, as gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang “Hallelujah.”

No matter your politics, your views of soon to be ex-President Donald Trump, the mainstream media, this columnist, masks and social distancing — can we agree — it is better for everyone to get past this pandemic nightmare.

Elaine Kamarck is the director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution.

Biden’s inaugural speech will have memorable lines, but what people from the left and the right will be looking for, said Kamarck, is what he will say about the COVID-19 pandemic and, “can he get us out of this mess.”

Biden, once at the White House, will issue a string of Day One executive orders with more to swiftly come. The aim is to reverse some of what have been Trump’s signature policies as Biden starts to deconstruct Trump’s legacy and build his own.  

Trump deserves credit for fast-tracking development of the COVID vaccine. He departs without a plan to make enough of it fast and get the shots in our arms.

Biden has already set a high bar for himself, promising to administer 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days.

Kamarck said, “I believe that given the way Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic, Biden’s first and really only job for the first year is going to be do something and make it work.

“If he can do that, then I think he buys himself an enormous amount of political goodwill; then I think he can tackle a whole variety of issues.

“But if he can’t get us out of this, if he can’t get vaccines into the arms of enough Americans to end this thing, then I think he’s going to be in a big, big, big pile of hurt, and he’s going to have trouble doing anything on his agenda.”

Trump’s particular expertise was, with the help of Republican enablers and conspiracy theorists, spreading distrust — of facts and science in general and in government institutions in particular.

Trust in government can be restored if Biden can end COVID and explain government — led by people who know what they are doing — got the pandemic under control.

He’s got a “grace time” of nine months to the end of the year, Kamarck said.

For awhile, “all the bad stuff is going be Trump. And then you kind of run out of goodwill.” As the months of 2021 race by, there needs “to be a noticeable difference in the intensity of the pandemic.”

Every step of the way, Biden needs to show it is government solving the problem and not some fluke, Kamarck said.

“If Biden can use the Defense Production Act to get the right amount of vaccine out there and PPE (personal protection equipment), and then he can get the logistics working, I think that alone is going to increase trust in government.”

“He’s got to show not only is he ending the pandemic but he is doing specific things with the government that ends it,” she said.

We’re in dark, tough times after the Capitol siege that left five dead with videos showing white supremacists and anti-Semites in the pro-Trump mob. Key to forging unity — to finding a way for the 81 million Biden voters and the 74 million Trump voters to co-exist in a productive way even with profound disagreements — is for Biden to get the pandemic behind us.

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