“The people of this nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory. … We have won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of this nation.
“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify. … Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now.”
With these words, the president-elect, Joe Biden, set a new tone and a new mood in Washington. No longer will the bully pulpit of the White House be used to spew lies and insults or to fan division and hatred. The White House will once again call on the “better angels” of Americans and not our “darkest impulses.”
With the new tone, Biden offered new priorities and action. He listed the staggering challenges that face the country and its new president: the battle to control the coronavirus, to build prosperity, to secure health care, to “achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism,” to save the climate.
The most urgent, of course, is the pandemic, with the virus now peaking once more in states across the country. Gone is the magical thinking that it would soon disappear. Gone is the illusion that the economy could be rebuilt while the pandemic raged. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control,” said Biden. Common sense, perhaps, but something that has been missing for too long.
Biden announced that he was ready to act, putting together a task force of leading scientists and experts to detail how to go forward. When he is sworn in on Jan. 20, he will hit the ground running. At the same time, he will push strongly for the passage of a rescue package in the coming lame-duck session of Congress — with aid for the millions still unemployed, action to avoid a blizzard of evictions and foreclosures, resources to get the disease back under control, aid to states and localities whose budgets have been savaged by the virus and economic recession and more. Without this, as the Trump appointed head of the Federal Reserve has been warning, the economy will be driven into a new downturn.
A new mood. A new plan of action. Once more, hope is reborn.
I harbor no illusions. This country is deeply divided. Trump is howling at the moon about the election, but he will spread his poison to millions. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has shown in the past that he is willing to obstruct everything in order to bring down a Democratic president. Biden’s faith and good will is already being tested.
Biden owes his election to the growing citizen movements that demanded change — from Black Lives Matter, to #MeToo, to the growing climate movement and more. His campaign was aided by thousands of community organizers who worked tirelessly to make that change happen. He graciously acknowledged his debt to the African American voters who saved his candidacy and helped propel his victory.
Those movements and organizers now must redouble their efforts. The last great reform period in America came when Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement joined with a president, Lyndon Johnson, to move this country closer to equal justice for all.
That same energy and more will be needed to meet the challenges of this day.
It is always darkest before the dawn. And now, with this election, the first rays of a new day begin to shine. Now is the time to come together, to build, and to keep hope alive.
The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.