25 Jan Welcome Back, America!
All this is going to take us some time. You don’t adjust out of Stockholm syndrome into something approaching hope, much less normalcy, with a snap of your fingers. You suffer leftover debilitating addictions.
For instance, I noticed that in the very first press briefing from the White House, there were quite a few—too many—questions about changing the color scheme in Air Force One from Trump’s choices, and what were the contents of Trump’s note to Biden left in the Resolute desk. Earth to my colleagues in the media: Who in hell cares? Most of us were so excited at there being a press briefing—oh my god any press briefing, and one every day, oh my god!–that we were still picking ourselves up off the floor.
Not having to live by tweet. No shouting matches with the press en route to the helicopter. No denunciations of the media as enemies of the people. Respectful, factual, honest press briefings every afternoon, even unto being honest about when they might not be able to be totally honest! An all-female senior communications team, with Jennifer Psaki as the young, whip-smart White House press secretary—the first time all the top aides tasked with speaking and shaping an administration’s message are female. Wow.
So please don’t expect yourself to take it for granted that President Biden actually used the words “systemic racism” in his inaugural speech. But also let’s not ricochet in the opposite direction of overwhelming sycophancy because our federal government is actually doing stuff it should have done all along, like, yeah, President Biden actually using the words “systemic racism” in his inaugural speech! There’s a golden mean in here somewhere.
And that’s not to say we can’t indulge in delight. Delight at those multiple ceilings now cracked wide-open. It’s not only that Kamala Harris—Madame Vice President, how delicious that tastes!—is the first woman vice president, and the first Black vice president, and the first South Asian vice president. It’s also that her husband, Doug Emhoff, is the first second gentleman, and the first Jewish second gentleman. We don’t have a name for this post yet, and he and we have yet to figure out what his function will be, although choosing silverware will probably not be a contender ever again, even when a woman inherits the post. He gave up his law practice as an entertainment attorney when his wife began campaigning, joined the faculty at the Georgetown University Law Center, and is teaching a course called Entertainment Law Disputes this semester (that certainly seems, well, kosher enough). Meanwhile, back at the White House, as for Dr. Jill Biden, our new first lady—an honorific originally devised for Dolly Madison and surely ready for retirement–she is going to hallelujah keep her teaching job at Northern Virginia community college, separating it from her White House duties. She did the same thing when she was “second lady.”
These two decisions, though seemingly minor compared to everything else we’re facing, are seismic in terms of people’s vocations and avocations, their self-images and the images others have of them, their very identity. And that’s not even to begin to address the genuine love and affection clearly evident between both couples. Like the Obamas, who were always smiley whispering in each other’s ears as if later on in the Residence they were going to get it on together, these people seem to genuinely care about each other. We’re beyond the frosty smiles of previous such couples, whether they’re wearing the agonized martyr look of Pat Nixon, the adoration beam of Nancy Reagan, or the frozen fashion stare of Melania Trump. When Joe hugs Jill and she rests her head on his shoulder and they take the time to just stand there for a long minute before entering the White House, something’s actually happening between these people. They’re recognizable. They are not from the ‘What Me Worry?’ planet, where never was heard an encouraging word and the kooks and the psychopaths roam.
All this takes adjustment. For myself, this morning in the shower under hot water, for the first time I could feel my shoulders beginning to unclench. They clenched up again afterward, but that’s OK. Habit. Reflex. Pavlov’s dog. As I say, it’ll take time. When I wake up each day I have to consciously remember to not be depressed or angry. I’m hardly what you’d call relaxed, particularly with the second impeachment looming, crazies out there, and Mitch McConnell still acting as if he had all the power in the world. It’s not time to put away our anti-grind mouth guards yet.
But it is time to pay attention, and take some deep breaths, toward what our new government has been doing . In case you missed some of these Executive Orders that President Biden–what a nice pair of words those are!–has been signing this past week, here they are:
1. Executive order mandating use of masks and physical distancing on federal lands and by government contractors, and urging of states and local governments to do the same. Note: he has also signed a second executive order following on the heels of this first day-one EO, requiring masks on planes, buses, trains, and at airports. This is as close to a national mask mandate as his federal powers allow, since only states and municipalities can require mask wearing at a local level.
2. Executive order on re-joining the World Health Organization.
3. Executive order creating the position of Covid 19 Response Coordinator who will report directly to Biden and manage efforts to produce and distribute vaccines and medical equipment.
4. Executive order extending the existing nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until at least March 31.
5. Executive order extending the existing pause on federal student loan payments and interest until at least September 30.
6. Executive order reversing Trump’s decision and re-joining the Paris Climate Accords, a process that will take 30 days.
7. Executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and directing agencies to review and reverse more than 100 Trump actions on the environment.
8. Executive order on racial equity, rescinding Trump’s orders and directing agencies to review all their actions to ensure racial equity.
9. Executive order on gender equity, preventing workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
10. Executive order on the Census requiring that resident noncitizens be included in the census and apportionment of congressional representatives, reversing another Trump policy.
11. Executive order on immigration, fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), after Trump’s efforts to undo protections for undocumented people brought into the country as children (“Dreamers”). This also establishes a program toward citizenship which will be in a Biden bill soon ready for Congress.
12. Executive order reversing the Trump regime’s restriction on US entry for passport holders from Muslim-majority countries.
13. Executive order reversing Trump’s expansion of enforcement measures against immigration within the United States.
14. Executive order halting construction of the Border Wall by terminating the national emergency declaration used to fund it.
15. Executive order extending deferrals of deportation and work authorizations for Liberians with a safe haven in the United States until June 30, 2022.
16. Executive order on ethics, requiring executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge committing federal employees to uphold the independence of the Department of Justice.
17. Executive order undoing the Trump regime regulatory approval process and directing the Office of Management and Budget Director to develop recommendations to modernize regulatory review.
Wow oh wow oh wow. Time for you to get up and do your little dance. Maybe your big dance. Oh and by the way, “sleepy Joe,” who is moving at the speed of light, hasn’t paused since those first-day 17 executive orders.
On Thursday, his administration imposed a 60 day pause on all leasing, permitting, and other major Department of the Interior decisions unless approved by a top Biden appointee.
On Friday, he asked the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase SNAP benefits (that’s the supplemental nutrition assistance program also known as food stamps benefits), and to increase by 15% the benefits awarded to a school meals program for low-income students that was started in the pandemic. This could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months. The Biden administration is also targeting at least 60 of Trump’s more than 200 environmental rollbacks, and instead is adding protections.
Oh yes, and our first African-American Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, and our first female Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellin, both were confirmed by a somewhat shamefaced bipartisan Senate vote. And Dr. Fauci is back. The little-elf scientist, the most trusted man in this country, is back, serving, actually free to speak this time—and openly celebrating that freedom.
People, this is energy, blessed energy–the only thing that can save us at this late stage. We’ve been starved for it. I believe, pessimistic optimist that I am, that it both can and will save us. But the truth is that even the mere coursing of it through our veins, this life-giving energy, is itself miraculous.
Let’s not kid ourselves, it also hurts. Badly. Grief over people we’ve lost to the pandemic. Shame before the world. The humiliation of our Republic. Rage at what Trump and his backers got away with. The sick feeling at the pit of the stomach that we didn’t do enough, rise up enough, rise up fast enough, put enough pressure on the Senate and on Twitter and Facebook and the media and everyone as we should have. Oh, how it hurts, this coming to consciousness. It’s as agonizing as when they would remove the bindings on Chinese women’s feet that had been broken and bound down to three inches length; it’s as excruciating as when they would try to remove the elongating neck rings on Kayan women in Thailand’s mountain region, rings added one by one since childhood–only to find that unsupported, the women’s heads would drop and their necks break.
We have had a narrow—very narrow—escape. Next time there will not be that small window. We dare never repeat those mistakes. But we can do what our species is uniquely equipped to do: we can learn, we can adapt, we can change.
Welcome forward, America.