Until he’s able to do that, the unity he calls for— along with his agenda– will constantly be threatened by misinformation.
The gaslighting that defined the Trump years has already picked up where it left off barely a week ago during his impeachment.
“Yet hear me clearly,” Biden said in his inauguration speech. “Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans. All Americans. And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
If you feel as if you’ve heard that before, you have.
Believe it or not Trump also promised to be a president for all Americans during his 2017 inauguration, though in retrospect, another statement made during the speech, which seemed innocuous at the time, proved to be more ominous: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
Despite constant warnings from people of color, grassroots leaders, journalists, even the FBI — many Americans thought white supremacy ideology died in the 1960s amid the civil rights movement. To Trump’s discredit, he showed the country that worldview — as well as the people who still faithfully carry the flag representing it — were not dead, just forgotten. Not only that, the Trump years showed it all could be organized, mobilized…even elected (not just Trump). Forgotten no longer…just as he pledged.
How does Biden begin to be a president for all when roughly 74 million heard Trump (on tape) admit he knew just how serious the virus was despite his public statements to the contrary and voted for him anyway?
The Biden administration published its list of “immediate priorities,” with COVID-19 at the top. And while the pandemic is the preeminent issue, I would argue getting people just to believe in facts again will take a Herculean effort. I know it’s a weird agenda item, but we have seen the damage that is caused when the White House is more of a defender of “alternative facts” than actual ones and when rumors and nonsensical conspiracy theories are allowed to occupy space normally reserved for the findings from our Intelligence Community.
Or a dictionary.
When then Vice President Biden and President Obama walked into a White House facing a historic economic collapse, the country at least agreed the recession was real. Now as president, Biden not only has the task of getting the spread of COVID-19 under control, he must also spend his first 100 days convincing a significant portion of Americans — many of whom are emotionally exhausted or economically crippled from quarantining and shutdowns — that the virus is still worth fighting. You know, the kind of people who pull their masks down once they’ve entered a grocery store or are willing to risk it all for a freaking Bow Wow concert in 2021.
And despite the measure of relief that came when White House press secretary Jen Psaki pledged transparency and honesty will be hallmarks of the Biden administration, the reality is there are a large number of Americans who don’t believe she, Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris should be there in the first place. Convinced that the election was stolen. Convinced the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol are patriots. Convinced that a free press, which the Constitution recognizes before the right to bear arms, is not pertinent for the survival of democracy but rather is the enemy of the people.
After a 2020 that has left many of us scarred in places we didn’t know could be scarred, a healer-in-chief would be like rubbing a salve on a burn. But in order to stop further injury, Biden has to first convince people it was fire that wounded us in the first place…a tall order when QAnon enthusiasts are willing to overthrow the government believing the hurt came from water. This is what happens when the White House turns facts into an amenity.
Biden’s entire political career has been built on decency and a willingness to work with the other side of the aisle. By all accounts, he is sincere when he says he wants to be a president for all. But most everyone seeking or serving as president has said something like that early on. In announcing her run in 1972, Rep. Shirley Chisholm said “I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement in this country, although I am a woman, and equally proud of that… I am the candidate of the people of America.”
Let’s just say the country didn’t believe her.
Even President Andrew Jackson — he who opposed abolition and authored the Trail of Tears — had the nerve to say he was concerned with “the equal happiness and freedom of all the members of the confederacy” during his first inauguration speech.
Unity is the right thing to say. It’s also easy to say, much like Dorothy’s house landing on the witch was easy. The true journey still awaits.
LZ Granderson is the host of “Sedano & LZ” on ESPN Radio, the sports and culture columnist for the LA Times and an ABC News political contributor. He writes on race, culture and LGBT issues and is a former fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and the Hechinger Institute at Columbia University.