Biden is officially sworn in as President with a big speech, bigger executive actions, an adoring mainstream media, an incoming migrant caravan, a pause on deportations, and a small crowd with most of the Capitol on lockdown while the shadow of Trump still looms. Plus, what’s this new equity word?
“The contrast on display tonight was so stark, I mean those lights that are just shooting out from the Lincoln Memorial along the reflecting pool, extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America. It was a moment where the new president came to town and sort of convened the country in this moment of remembrance, outstretching his arms,” CNN Political Director David Chalian declared the night before Biden officially took office, signally as clearly as could possibly be that the era of adversarial journalism was officially over.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. assumed the Presidency at noon on January 20, a typically cold and clear winter’s day in Washington. Please note: This event shouldn’t be confused with last Sunday’s “indoguration,” where we were forced to endure a virtual ceremony in honor of one of the Biden family dogs, Major, another prelude to the hard-hitting journalism to come.
At the real inauguration, Biden himself was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts before delivering the traditional address to the nation. “Today on this January day, my whole soul is in this — bringing American people together, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause,” the newly minted President said before a crowd of about a thousand people, restricted for security reasons. He continued, “Uniting to fight the foes we face, anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things.”
Biden did acknowledge that unity can be hard to come by: “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know that the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”
Finally, he imparted some reasonable advice I fully encourage everyone to heed in the days ahead, “Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. We have to be different than this. America has to be better than this.”
A rabbi compared him to Moses, a media pundit said he was God’s gift to America, I’m not kidding on either, and then he proceeded to the traditional series of day one executive actions, seventeen to be precise, plus a bonus one late in the evening.
This is where things got interesting, if a bit perplexing.
Incoming Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the goal was “moving the country forward” by rolling back the objectionable policies of his predecessor. The executive agenda included steps on immigration, climate, affordable housing, equity, energy, and ethics.
On immigration, Biden ordered the “immediate termination” of border wall construction, the end of restrictions on several primarily Muslim countries, and rescinding of aggressive border enforcement in the middle of a global pandemic with border cities already hit hard by the virus. Later in the evening, he paused all deportations for a hundred days, a move almost certain to result in more kids in cages as we have to hold people somewhere.
The actions are part of a broader legislative plan to grant amnesty to 11,000,000 illegal immigrants. Where was that on the campaign trail or at the debates? Where was any of this? No deportations? Incoming National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, noted that the “The Biden administration is going to have a very different approach to regional migration,” adding that there will be a “special emphasis” to address the “root causes of migration in the region.”
Even before the executive and planned legislative actions were announced, they were overshadowed by the re-emergence of migrant caravans, a tragic sight we haven’t seen in several years. NPR reports that “On Sunday, police and soldiers in riot gear confronted a caravan of migrants from Honduras on a highway near Chiquimula in southeastern Guatemala. After a tense standoff, in which police fired tear gas and attempted to beat back the migrants with batons, the surging crowd broke through a phalanx of soldiers.”
The caravan was estimated at 7,000 to 8,000 strong, and they had a message for Biden himself. One of the migrants, Miguel Angel said he believes caravans will be welcome moving forward. “I have hope and faith in God, and in the good person that the United States has chosen. Biden is a good person and isn’t the same as the administration that’s just ended.”
The at-the-time incoming Biden administration responded with a firm, decisive, not just yet, give us some time and we’ll let you all in. Seriously, NBC News reported that a future administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. to claim asylum in the first few weeks of the new administration ‘need to understand they’re not going to be able to come into the United States immediately.’”
That’s certainly encouraging.
It makes even less sense when you consider that Biden is simultaneously refusing to ease pandemic related restrictions on European and Brazilian travel. Trump had signed the order on Monday to allow travel with the proof of negative coronavirus test, effective January 26. Even Reuters noted that ending the restrictions had won “support from coronavirus task force members and public health officials.”
Alas, Ms. Psaki tweeted in response “on the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.” She added that “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” and “in fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel.”
Wouldn’t the same logic apply to illegal immigration and deportations? Consistency, however, has never been a Biden strong suit.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the executive actions related to “equity” are potentially even more troubling. Domestic Policy Advisor (without any domestic policy experience) Susan Rice said Biden plans to put “racial justice and equity at the center of our agenda,” building a “whole of government approach to racial justice.”
The executive order will “define equity as the consistent and systemic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals,” with a special focus on “underserved communities such as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and other persons of color; LGBTQ+ persons; people with disabilities religious minorities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”
I’ll admit that part of it sounds quite good. I firmly believe everyone should be treated equally and offered equal justice under the law, but why use the word “equity” instead of the far more common term “equality”?
Ms. Rice also noted that Biden will direct federal agencies to “equitably allocate federal resources to empower and invest in communities of color and other underserved communities.” This is where things start sounding a little more ominous, how do you “equitably allocate” while “empowering” and “investing” in target communities?
Apparently, equality just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need a new term. Equality is defined by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as “ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents.” Equity is defined quite differently: Giving people what they need in order to make things fair. In other words, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Where have I heard that before?
Finally, in yet another show of unity, Biden rescinded Trump’s 1776 Project on patriotic education, scrubbing any reference to it from the White House website. The 1619 Project in schools good, 1776 bad.
Of course, former President Trump continues to loom over any and all proceedings, despite exiting Washington DC several hours before the inauguration and being a thousand miles away for the entire event. Sometimes, discussions of Trump lead to strange, dare I say conspiracy-minded places. For example, Hillary Clinton hosted Nancy Pelosi on her podcast recently for some stimulating ideas about Trump and Putin.
“I would love to see his phone records to see whether he was talking to Putin the day the insurgence invaded our Capitol but we now know that not just him, but his enablers, his accomplices, his cult members, have the same disregard for democracy,” she said, rich content coming from the woman who participated in rigging a primary against Bernie Sanders. Ms. Clinton then asked, “Do you think we need a 9/11 type commission to investigate and report everything that they can pull together and explain what happened?”
Ms. Pelosi responded as only she can, “I do. Let me again, to your point, if it’s to he’s beholden to, as I’ve said over and over, as I said to him in that picture with my blue suit. As I was leaving I was saying, was pointing rudely at him, ‘With you, Mr. President, all roads lead to Putin. I don’t know what Putin has on him politically, financially or personally, but what happened last week was a gift to Putin because Putin wants to undermine democracy in our country and throughout the world.”
Apparently, they didn’t get the unity memo either. Regardless, the Trump show returns soon for Impeachment in the Senate 2.0, now with more insurrection. It’s going to be a wild first 100 days. Oh, and that pressing coronavirus relief legislation Biden said was priority number one? It’s been pushed back until at least March.
In the meantime, I’ll offer Joe Biden some words from President Trump’s farewell address.
“No nation can long thrive that loses faith in its own values, history, and heroes, for these are the very sources of our unity and our vitality. What has always allowed America to prevail and triumph over the great challenges of the past has been an unyielding and unashamed conviction in the nobility of our country and its unique purpose in history. We must never lose this conviction. We must never forsake our belief in America.”