The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump leaves a scorched landscape. But Biden brings hope at last.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris introduce members of their White House science team in Wilmington, Del., last week. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

On Wednesday, the nation will have a president who would never summon thousands of his followers to Washington, whip them into a frenzy with lies and then aim them at the Capitol. We will have a president who sees the unimaginable and unacceptable national tragedy in every one of the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from covid-19, rather than lamenting the calamity only as an unfair stain on his precious "brand." And we will have a president who, I am confident, won't seriously inquire about buying Greenland.

The moment Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris are sworn in as president and vice president, the world becomes a better and brighter place. Their presence will not magically dissipate the pandemic, the economic devastation that follows from it, and the bizarre and poisonous conspiracy theories that have run wild for the past four years. But, at last, we will have a commander in chief who wants to do the job and who works to make everything better. We must be realistic about the tasks before them and patient at a moment when our fortitude has already been sorely tested. But there are real reasons to have hope that Biden and Harris are up to the job.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is such a human weathervane that it is hard to take seriously anything he says, but one of his recent pronouncements is worth noting: Donald Trump, he asserted, was a "consequential" president.

That is objectively true. The Trump years were terribly consequential — in all the wrong ways.

We have endured what felt like a 48-month-long, nonstop assault by an assailant who displays toxic malice and slapstick incompetence in roughly equal measure. His one political talent is identifying the cracks in our society and pile-driving wedges into them, turning them into canyons. His narcissism is so vast and absolute that it should be analyzed in psychology textbooks. His love of conspiracy theories and need to be surrounded by fawning sycophants made his administration an unprecedented gusher of brazen lies.

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Biden and Harris inherit the task of leading a country where millions believe in an alternative reality. More than 3,000 Americans are dying of covid-19 every day, yet stubborn fools — encouraged by Trump to see irresponsibility as "freedom" — refuse to take the simple precaution of wearing a mask. A substantial portion of the electorate, egged on by Trump's cynical Republican enablers, is wrongly convinced that there was massive fraud in the election. The traditional push-pull of liberals vs. conservatives is portrayed in the right-wing mediaverse as a death match between "antifa socialists" and "real Americans," tragically and stupidly raising the stakes.

This is no day for despair, however. Survey the scorched landscape — but be hopeful.

Begin with the man and woman who take their oaths of office Wednesday. Biden has spent practically his whole adult life as a public servant, first as a senator and then as vice president. Unlike Trump and most of his appointees, Biden understands how the legislative process works — and knows the federal government inside out. His empathy is legendary, and while the right too often denigrates such qualities as weakness, I believe it will drive him to have high standards. Biden will be a demanding boss, insisting on results at a time when failure is not an option.

From her time as California's attorney general, Harris also knows how to run a bureaucracy, but she brings fresh perspectives to the vice presidency: that of a woman, a graduate of Howard University, and an American who is Black and has desi ancestry. The new America that is less White, less male-dominated, more diverse, more multicultural, will have not just a symbolic seat at the table but also real power to shape policy.

Biden and Harris are bringing in one of the most experienced and proven groups of Cabinet nominees and high-ranking White House aides that I've ever seen. Based on phone calls with a number of them over the past week, the incoming team seems focused on delivering fast and meaningful results — beginning with an urgent focus on covid-19 and creating the missing last-mile infrastructure (neglected by the Trump administration) required to get vaccine shots into hundreds of millions of arms as quickly as possible. 

We must be realistic. We will not expect Biden, Harris and their incoming administration to return our public life to what we once knew as "normal," since that may not be possible, or in some ways even desirable. But we will hope they begin to define a new normal that gives these disunited states a way forward.

 We have lived through four years of "American carnage," but we can hope that today is an inflection point. Another consequential presidency has begun.   

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Read more:

Submit a question for Eugene Robinson’s Jan. 26 live chat

Read the transcript of Eugene Robinson’s Jan. 19 live chat: Donald Trump’s last day

Paul Waldman: Goodbye, Donald Trump. You were the worst of us.

Jeff Flake: What the Biden era will feel like, six months in

Max Boot: Trump couldn’t have incited sedition without the help of Fox News

Jennifer Rubin: Trump is the worst outgoing president. Biden is among the best incoming.