Joe Biden takes the Oath of Office
Joe Biden takes the Oath of Office

The peo­ple walk­ing in dark­ness have seen a great light; on those liv­ing in the land of the shad­ow of death, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy.

— Isa­iah 9:2–3

After four long and hor­ri­ble years, the Trump error has come to an end.

Today, at the Unit­ed States Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Joe Biden and Kamala Har­ris were sworn in as the forty-sixth Pres­i­dent and forty-ninth Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Both are his­to­ry mak­ers: Biden is the old­est per­son ever to be inau­gu­rat­ed as Pres­i­dent, while Har­ris is the first woman, the first Black per­son, and the first Asian Amer­i­can to serve as Vice President.

United States Capitol on Inauguration Day 2021
The Unit­ed States Capi­tol on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day 2021 (Pho­to: Biden/Harris Transition)

The Biden-Har­ris inau­gu­ra­tion comes at a piv­otal and per­ilous moment in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. Every­where we look, our coun­try faces grave threats, from home­grown fas­cist move­ments to cli­mate dam­age to sys­tem racism, poverty/income inequal­i­ty, and the dead­ly COVID-19 pandemic.

Rarely has our coun­try so bad­ly need­ed steady, com­pe­tent, and effec­tive lead­er­ship as it does on this day, Jan­u­ary 20th, 2021.

For me, this long-await­ed occa­sion brings to mind anoth­er date in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, near­ly a cen­tu­ry ago, when Amer­i­ca was at anoth­er nadir: March 4th, 1933. On that day, Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt took the oath of office to become Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States and declared to an anx­ious nation:

“This is pre­em­i­nent­ly the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and bold­ly. Nor need we shrink from hon­est­ly fac­ing con­di­tions in our coun­try today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will pros­per. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — name­less, unrea­son­ing, unjus­ti­fied ter­ror which par­a­lyzes need­ed efforts to con­vert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our nation­al life a lead­er­ship of frank­ness and vig­or has met with that under­stand­ing and sup­port of the peo­ple them­selves which is essen­tial to vic­to­ry. I am con­vinced that you will again give that sup­port to lead­er­ship in these crit­i­cal days.”

– Excerpt from Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt’s First Inau­gur­al Address (March 4th, 1933)

We need that same New Deal spir­it today to rebuild our bro­ken country.

01/20/2021 may well be remem­bered as a day that served as a bridge between two his­toric pres­i­den­cies: one that could rank as the worst for a very, very long time, and one that our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute hopes will be remem­bered as restora­tive and a mod­el of responsibility.

For four years, we have walked in dark­ness towards a bet­ter future, resist­ing and per­sist­ing. We have seen the light before today, but now we actu­al­ly get to step into it. And oh, how won­der­ful and warm it feels!

Just think: Don­ald Trump no longer has the nuclear codes. Stephen Miller no longer works in the Exec­u­tive Office of the Pres­i­dent. Mike Pom­peo no longer speaks for this coun­try as its top diplo­mat. Amer­i­ca’s wrong wing no longer has the pow­er to sab­o­tage the cen­sus, sup­press sci­ence, put kids in cages, start wars, or loot and plun­der our pub­lic lands from with­in the White House.

That’s worth cel­e­brat­ing. We had to over­come a lot to get to this moment.

Last night, as I was con­tem­plat­ing what to write today, an email came from the Biden-Har­ris tran­si­tion press office: the Dai­ly Guid­ance and Press Sched­ule for Wednes­day, Jan­u­ary 20th, 2021, the first day of the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion. Open­ing that email and look­ing through the sched­ule for today was incred­i­bly grat­i­fy­ing. This is real, I thought. This is hap­pen­ing. Our nation will have real lead­er­ship again from peo­ple who under­stand the val­ue of service. 

We can­not, of course, for­get that over 400,000 Amer­i­cans have died from SARS-CoV­‑2, a virus that the now-end­ed Trump-Pence regime bare­ly both­ered to com­bat. We can­not for­get the crimes against human­i­ty per­pe­trat­ed at our bor­ders, or the aid and com­fort giv­en to Amer­i­can fas­cists and auto­crat­ic regimes around the world by the peo­ple who occu­pied our exec­u­tive branch for four years, or the thir­teen bar­bar­ic exe­cu­tions they arranged, or the con­tin­u­a­tion sys­temic racism that they endorsed, or the envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion they plotted.

But we must and should com­mend our­selves for all we did to fight against all of the above and reach this moment. When you’re going through hell, keep going, the old adage goes. And so we did. For four years, we kept going, with the under­stand­ing that we would need to fight until we could­n’t anymore.

Some of com­pan­ions on this jour­ney, sad­ly, did­n’t make it.

When Joe Biden and Kamala Har­ris took the oath a short time ago, I thought of the stal­wart pro­gres­sive activists we’ve lost over the last few years. Peo­ple like Al Gar­man, Elaine Phelps, Priscil­la O’Leary, and Alex Hen­drick­son. They did­n’t live to see the end of the Trump error, but they’re with us in spir­it nonetheless.

In elect­ing Biden and Har­ris, those of us who remain have ful­filled our oblig­a­tions to them to car­ry on their work, and put our coun­try on a path to a bet­ter future.

Today, in their hon­or, and in the mem­o­ry of every­one we’ve lost to COVID-19 or police bru­tal­i­ty, we begin a new chap­ter in Amer­i­ca’s sto­ry. A chap­ter that we hope will be char­ac­ter­ized more by progress and pos­si­bil­i­ties real­ized than by tragedy and suf­fer­ing. Let’s go for­ward, fur­ther into the light, together.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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