No Justice, No Republic, No Malarkey
President Biden's first 42 hours.
THE FIRST THREE Wednesdays of 2021, as I’m not the first to point out, have produced an insurrection, an impeachment, and an inauguration. Even more remarkable is that all three events, each one singularly historic, went down in the same place: the Capitol building in Washington. What’s on tap for Wednesday #4? One hopes for another “i”-word—indictments!—but at this point, the traumatized nation could probably stand for a slow news day.
We are 42 hours into the Biden Administration, and I couldn’t be happier with what I’ve seen coming out of the gate. While I was scared off by the prospect of a second attempt at insurrection on January 20 by the motley army of Proud Boys, Q-cultists, Boogaloos, and the like, and lobbied for the whole spectacle to be moved inside, if not shelved completely, President Biden was not and did not. The inauguration went on—out of doors, as it always has—and the nation was greeted to an event that well augured the competence and professionalism of the incoming administration. (The ugly business of the National Guard being summarily relocated to an inadequate facility smacks of one last bit of sabotage by Trump’s people, and will be handled).
President Biden’s inaugural address hit all the right notes. He spoke of healing, of bringing the nation together and ending “the uncivil war.” He spoke of justice and accountability. Quoting Augustine of Hippo, the fifth-century saint of his Roman Catholic Church, he spoke of a people being defined by “common objects of their love,” and then named those common objects: “opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor—and, yes, the truth.”
On the last day of Donald John Trump’s miserable presidency, I wrote of his systematic effort to obliterate the truth. “This assault on reality,” I wrote, “is the greatest challenge Joe Biden and Kamala Harris face.” So it was cathartic to hear President Biden address this head-on in his first speech as Commander-in-Chief:
Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson.
There is truth and there are lies.
Lies told for power and for profit.
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 to defeat the lies.
As he finished speaking, my wife remarked, “He might be the most authentic politician we’ve ever had,” and she’s right. With this president, NO MALARKEY is not just a catch-phrase to paint on the side of a campaign bus. This is one of the many ways that Joe Biden is the antipode of Donald Trump. The contrast is striking: Authenticity versus phoniness. Compassion versus cruelty. Empathy versus sociopathy. Inclusivity versus white supremacy. Productivity versus sloth. Light versus dark. And yes, I’ll just say it: good versus evil. We would be hard pressed to find two straight white septuagenarian American men this different.
In his first half-day in command, Biden signed a raft of executive orders, undoing, with a few strokes of a pen, some of his predecessor’s more egregious acts. Vice President Kamala Harris—oh how I thrill to type those words!—swore in three new Senators, officially handing control of that deliberative body to the Democrats. Twitter, liberated from the tyranny of @realdonaldtrump, was flooded with playful “Cold Bernie” memes.
In the Bizarro World that is Fox News, a grief-stricken Sean Hannity went on the attack against both Joe Biden and reality:
And prominent white supremacy apologist Tucker Carlson took the new president to task for declaring war on white supremacy—one of the greatest self-owns in recent memory.
Thursday was even better. A younger-seeming Dr. Fauci was back at the controls, taking questions from the press with the vim of a bird just released from a fishing net. Avril Haines was confirmed as Director of National Intelligence; that she has promised to release more details on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi must make Trump and Jared Kushner very nervous. President Biden made it crystal clear that there would be no “reset” with Russia, and put Vladimir Putin on notice. And Nancy Pelosi was through playing “nice-nice” with the seditionists in Congress or the ex-president who incited insurrection:
Over all, Washington had the vibe of Pac-Man who, after desperately avoiding those ghosts for four years, has finally eaten the power pellets and gone on the offensive.
This is only the beginning, of course. Perhaps this pace is unsustainable. Perhaps the hunger to bring Trump and his co-conspirators to justice takes a backseat to more pressing matters. But it seems to me that the covid-19 death toll will serve as a grim daily reminder of all the woe he wrought, and that our appetite for justice will only be sated when justice is actually, and finally, served.
As I’ve written and said many times, the very future of the republic depends on it. No less an authority than President Biden’s favorite early Church father, Augustine of Hippo, agrees: “Consequently,” he wrote 16 centuries ago, “if the republic is the weal of the people, and there is no people if it be not associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and if there is no right where there is no justice, then most certainly it follows that there is no republic where there is no justice.”
No justice, no republic: That’s no malarkey.
Photo credit: The Conversion of St. Augustine by Fra Angelico