There has been a lot of conversation lately about just how bad an American president can get. Is getting impeached the lowest low? No, apparently it can happen twice. How about asking foreign governments to interfere in our elections? Well, apparently there’s also inciting domestic terrorism and insurrection.
Amidst all the furor and horror over ex-President Trump, there hasn’t been quite enough talk about what makes a good president. We hold our breath for President Biden’s first hundred days, craving the boring news of the administrative state and promising our clenched hearts there will be normalcy soon. We don’t ask much of him, only the bare minimum. And even that is going to feel like the first breath of fresh air after a year smothered by masks.
But despite the fact I have many criticisms of the Biden-Harris platform, I ask for more. I expect more. I expect greatness. And I think President Biden will deliver.
I think he will work hard, listen to criticism, and put the American people first. I know that he seeks no higher office, fame, or power. I believe he only ran in the first place because our country was so terribly broken and he knew he was one of the only Democrats in a crowded field who could win.
I believe he loves the United States of America. And I think there is nothing a person won’t do when they are in love.
If I know nothing else about President Biden, I know this: he loves our country.
Mr. Biden has long cared about people, their problems, and their issues, one of the few public servants who — by all accounts from both sides of the aisle — passionately wanted to make things better. After losing his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972, Mr. Biden famously rode the Amtrak for hours a day to help raise his sons, Hunter and Beau, neither leaving his job as a young U.S. Senator, nor leaving the people he loved alone.
In 1986, in a powerful now-viral video, then Senator Biden attacked the U.S.’s lack of response to apartheid in South Africa. “Dammit,” he said. “We have favorites in South Africa. The favorites…are the people that are being repressed by an ugly white regime. Our loyalty is not to South Africa, it’s to South Africans. They are being excoriated.” You can hear the passion and anger dripping in his voice. He was personally and emotionally frustrated at our policies and the people they affected. He cared.
And he cares about the role of the Presidency. In 2015, he said, “I don’t think any man or woman should run for President unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be President and, two, they can look at folks out there and say, ‘I promise you: you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this.’” At the time, he concluded by saying he couldn’t run in 2016 as he was still mourning the death of his son Beau.
When asked by Stephen Colbert in a recent interview about imagining inauguration, Mr. Biden admitted he hadn’t thought about it. He said he hadn’t planned on running after Beau died. “It wasn’t until those folks came out in Charlottesville,” he said, speaking of right-wing extremists, “that I realized something had to happen.” His grandchildren asked to meet with him and begged him to run. And he did. “It’s been more a sense of obligation than wanting to live in the White House,” he said. “The country we’ve been the last four years is not who we are.”
President Biden knows our country’s needs because he’s spent decades actually serving it, even at great personal cost. He has never left to join a consulting firm or make money off of books and the speaking circuit. I believe that he only ran for the Presidency for the country’s sake.
And the cherry on top is that he can apologize. Anyone in a loving relationship knows that when you’re wrong, ego should never stand in the way of making things better. When confronted about hard-line anti-crime stances he took in the 1990s, President Biden candidly apologized. “It was a mistake,” he said. Perhaps it was a statement he made to win an election. But in a Presidential contest where any wrong admitted was ground given up to a narcissistic opponent, that was a risk. And his campaign has taken steps to rectify those mistakes of the past and work on progressive reforms now.
If I know nothing else of President Biden, I know this: he loves our country. This is not something that is only true of him. There are many other politicians (for example, many of the ones who aren’t famous) who care equally about our country and the world. But it’s hard to figure out who is actually in love and who is doing the celebrity version of photo-op romance for the camera lights.
Sometimes, I think it’s clear. George Washington stepped down from a third Presidential term to make sure we had a peaceful transition and lasting democracy. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights at great risk to his own life. Stacey Abrams single-handedly turned Georgia blue.
And sometimes they’re Republican. I can recognize and respect the patriotic voters on the other side of the aisle who look at the facts I do — or sadly at “facts” that don’t exist at all — and fight for what they think is right and what they think will make our country a better place. But those who care even a little about America change their minds when confronted with the pain they’re causing. Jim Mattis didn’t have to take the job of Trump’s first Secretary of Defense or resign. But he did. Cindy McCain, John Kasich, and hundreds of other Republicans endorsed Biden. Mitt Romney marched with Black Lives Matter.
But in my entire life, I have never been so convinced any living politician cares about the United States more than President Biden does. And that gives me great hope.
The thing about love is it is loyalty and pain, terror and elation all rolled into one. I know I’ve felt all those strong feelings about our country— and more — in the past decade.
During that time, I’ve been told to get the hell out of the U.S., had the cops called on me for being brown, been told I’m not American enough, and lost jobs to racism. I’ve seen our country reject immigrants and women and queer people. I’ve seen transphobia and election fraud, pepper spray used on peaceful BLM protestors, and the Confederate flag flown from the ramparts of Capitol Hill.
But I’ve also worked for the Departments of State and Defense, our national labs, and the Federal Communications Commission. When my first security clearance process was tinged with racism, I just shrugged and applied again. I spent two years working on ways to incentivize more young people to work in public service and national service.
Why? Because I’m in love with the United States, warts and all. I love the First Amendment and our free press (even if they mess up), how diverse we are, and how we have been a beacon of hope to billions of people.
And that is what love is. Love is about never giving up. It is about sacrificing yourself to protect others. It is about accepting the late nights and the hard work because our people come first. It is about giving heartfelt apologies and listening to America’s deepest needs. It is about forgiving the darkest parts of this messed up world, the ugly scars and the terrible pain, and loving it anyway.
Presidents need to do all these things and more for our country. They need to be hopelessly and deeply in love with the diverse people we are, the heavy meaning of the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, and everything else the United States of America has been lucky enough to stand for. If we want to go the moon, they make it happen. They are asked to take care of all of us, put up with rabid criticism, and do the impossible. And when confronted with the heartbreaking tragedies of reality, they have to just smile, roll up their sleeves, and do their best to fix it.
I believe President Biden will.