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Uncle Joe and the triumph of decency

As Biden stands on the brink of becoming the 46th President of the United States, Adam Epstein says restoration of the nation's soul has already begun

Well, that was close! Rescuing democracy from the precipice of tyranny is not for the faint of heart. But then again, neither were the last 4 years of Trumpism…

As of this writing (yes the count continues) Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is poised to be elected the 46th president of the United States. If nothing else, a sharply divided American electorate, riven along rural, urban and ethnic lines, mustered a majority to ensure that Donald Trump would be a one termer. In doing so, they thwarted authoritarianism by voting for decency.

Even as the margins in the key states of Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia increase for him, and as the networks remain extra vigilant about making any premature calls, Biden is already acting as a steward of decency. Even in this momentary purgatory, Biden is a suture for a wounded nation, in the wake of what has often been daily trauma. As Biden reminded an anxious nation of one of democracy’s central tenets:

In America the vote is sacred. Its how people of this nation express their will. It is the will of the voters, no one, not anything else that chooses the president of the United States of America. So, each ballot must be counted.

Joe’s decency, of course, shouldn’t be all that surprising. After 35 years in the senate, and two ill-fated presidential bids in 1988 and 2008, he emerged as one of the most consequential Vice-Presidents in serving  Barack Obama. A faithful number two, Biden brought decades of Capitol Hill cred with him. Accordingly, Biden helped Obama navigate the rocky shoals of a cleaved Congress to pass his signature legislative achievement, The Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”. Biden was also immeasurable in the realm of foreign affairs, particularly with Afghanistan, the raid on Osama Bin Laden and with the fiasco that was the War in Iraq and its aftermath.

But even in his pre-victory address, a tranquil, yet reassuring Biden spoke to the nation, and within minutes, it was if we no longer suffered from political hypertension. “We have to remain calm, let the process work itself out,” he declared. “We are opponents, but we are not enemies. We are Americans.” Exhale.

Even as the nation begins to heal from the post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety-elevating chaos of the Trump years, Biden will need to fill a yawning void, and at the crossroads of that void is the sweet spot of an America that has been consumed by the relentless rancor of partisan politics. But Trump’s negligence on issues like health care, a stimulus for a pandemic stricken economy and climate change, leaves Biden with a herculean task. COVID cases in America just broke a third day record with a 122,000 daily caseload, and roughly 1,000 Americans are still dying every day. A national Coronavirus plan, one grotesquely absent since the virus hit last winter, will be imperative. On other policy matters, Progressives will want him to veer left. Conservatives, or whatever iteration exists of them in a post Trump vein, will no doubt be formidable impediments to progress, and some like Mitt Romney, might also want to appeal to his cautious, moderate streak.

Nonetheless, in the wake of Biden’s win, America is still in need of a reckoning. More than 70 million people (and likely more when the final vote tally is in) will have voted for a deeply venal and peerlessly amoral man. Not all of the data is in yet, but it appears white voters broke handily for Trump, with 55% of white women supporting him again, and two percentage points higher than in 2016, when the infamous “grab her by the pussy” also fell on deaf ears. White men have been Trump’s biggest supporters, and though Biden closed the gap, no Democrat has won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon Johnson, the Vice-President to John F. Kennedy who became president when JFK was shot and killed in Dallas. Johnson famously enacted the civil rights and voting rights laws of the sixties, and in the succeeding years, Democrats saw swaths of white voters decamp to the Republican Party.

In this election cycle, a majority of Cuban-American voters, along with a narrow majority of Venezuelan ones, voted for Trump in the Miami area, with large enough numbers to award him Florida’s 29 electoral votes. While it’s not unusual for Latinos (who are not a monolith, it must be noted) to elect Republicans (about 40 per cent went for George W Bush when he was re-elected in 2004) Trump’s naked, unapologetic racism is unprecedented in modern political times. The separating of Central American kids from their parents, and the housing of them in caged detention centres remains a moral stain on America’s soul, as much as it made a mockery of our cherished principles of asylum for those fleeing persecution.

So what does it mean that so many Americans, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8 million more than in 2016, cast ballots for Trump? Even some 20 per cent of African-American males reportedly pulled the lever for the president. Trump’s degrading of NFL players as “sons of bitches” for kneeling in defiance of police brutality and pleading for racial justice, seemed not to prove dissuasive.

America is nothing if not an idea, and in the corrosive Trump era, the ideas found in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” — often felt like a dream deferred. Lincoln’s Republican Party, founded in 1854 as a means of barring the expansion of slavery into newly admitted states, has morphed into a noxious gaggle of cultists; today’s Grand Old Party has made an open pact with white supremacists and elected QAnon conspiracy theorists to Congress. The GOP sees foreign interference in our elections, and though confirmed by a Republican led Senate Intelligence Committee, this conclusion was still seen as a ‘deep-state’ hoax perpetuated by Democrats and their allies within the national security establishment. And while Trump’s term seemed to threaten a full-throttle descent into paranoid racial fanaticism, he’s also symptomatic of a malignant populism deeply endemic to the American body politic, and not unlike the ethno-populist movements that have gripped the globe, led by autocratic strongmen like Viktor Orbán of Hungary or Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, to name some examples. But that doesn’t mitigate an ongoing politics of racial and demographic anxiety among white voters in the 2020 electorate. To be sure, ever since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, Republicans have been happy to stoke and exploit racial panic and division in an attempt to solidify the white working-class vote, which in our own era, became a wellspring of support for Trump and his MAGA base.

Biden rebuilt the so called “blue wall” of states in the Midwest like Michigan and Wisconsin and in turning once ruby red states like Arizona and Georgia a blue hue, Biden proved, like Bill Clinton and Obama before him, that Democrats can capture the presidency assuming they assemble a broad enough coalition. As elections have shown, that coalition must include the college educated, the youth and communities of colour and LGBTQ people, all of whom must mobilise and vote. And, of course, Biden’s choosing of Senator Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman, woman of color and Indian-American to serve as his Vice-President, is cause for history making jubilation in its own right.

But Uncle Joe’s bone deep humanity might be a salve in and of itself. At least at the start. Having lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident shortly after he was elected as a Senator from Delaware, and then losing his eldest son Beau to brain cancer at 46 years old, Joe knows about heart-searing loss. His stutter only makes him seem frail, but in reality, it’s a reminder that he’s all too human. At 77, he is certainly more of the elegant, ambling stallion than the galloping, irrepressible workhorse of his senate days.

But in the waning days of the national nightmare that is the Trump presidency, Biden’s election is not only a transition to a new presidential administration, it’s a glide path toward grace. The enormity of being the leader of the free world not lost on him, Biden is much more than a profile in courage. At once avuncular, steady and magnanimous, Biden is a much needed avatar of empathy. He’s “Uncle Joe” to us all. He promised “to restore the soul of our nation.” By vanquishing Trump, “Uncle Joe” assures that the restoration has already begun.

Photo credit: NBC News

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Adam Epstein

Though he currently works in political media, Adam Epstein has enjoyed a career as a celebrated Broadway producer. His theatrical productions have received 46 Tony nominations and garnered 12 Tony Awards, one of which Adam himself received as a producer of the hit musical Hairspray in 2003. His other Broadway credits include A View From a Bridge, The Crucible, Amadeus, The Wedding Singer and Cry-Baby. Adam has also been an adjunct faculty member of New York University (where he also earned his BA in political science), and guest lectured at Harvard and Columbia, and he has also had numerous essays published on politics and culture. He recently earned his MA in American Studies from Brown University, and has appeared on Fox News as a liberal pundit. Currently, Adam hosts his own show, THE DISPATCH, which appears weekly on his own YouTube channel.

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