In Sunset Boulevard when Joe Gillis says to her that he didn’t know she was planning a comeback, Norma Desmond shoots back, “I hate that word. It’s a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen.” Gloria Swanson owns that classic line, but it could just as easily been delivered by Uncle Sam, just by changing the last word to “scene.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted this week, “The United States is back. And Europe stands ready [to] reconnect with an old and trusted partner. . .” If she had just gone on and called it a comeback, President von der Leyen would have sounded like a press statement issued by Cecil B. DeMille if he really had wanted to do that cockamamie Salome movie with Norma.
With the inauguration of Joe Biden this week, it seems that Uncle Sam is on the verge of a return, what with the majority of the electorate supporting President Biden and the defeated incumbent’s final job approval rating dropping to 29% in the last Pew Research Center poll of his presidency. Our American traditions were observed, if altered somewhat to allow for the pandemic and the sorest loser since Andrew Johnson in 1869. But no matter—the optics worked.
There was a good deal of concern about the event, and justly so. Just two weeks after The Failed Insurrection with virtually non-stop chatter in that time, the closest thing to a conflict was the competition between Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. Rather, what they were wearing.
Gaga in Schiaparelli Haute Couture and JLo dripping Chanel evoked the legendary rivalry between the two fashion icons that ultimately led Coco to setting Elsa on fire at a costume ball in the late 1930’s. On the other hand, Vice President Kamala Harris, Dr. Jill Biden, and Michelle “who’s the boss” Obama wore American designers, who have not, as yet, torched each other. Commenting on how their clients looked might sound sexist, but this may be the closest thing we get to a Red Carpet moment for a long while.
The newly minted President Biden gave the most important speech of his political career in a blue Ralph Lauren suit. (See we can play what did he wear, too.)
While his oratory skills are not on par with FDR or JFK, and his in-person charisma doesn’t come across on television as much as Reagan or Obama, President Biden gave his call to the nation expressing an optimism that stood in stark contrast to the “American carnage” speech of four years ago. But there was one thing in the speech that stuck in my brain like Dubble Bubble on your best shoes.
After invoking the Civil War, the other two wars differentiated by Roman numerals, and 9/11, President Biden said, “In each of these moments, enough of us—enough of us—have come together to carry all of us forward, and we can do that now.” It struck me that this one sentence expresses a tacit understanding of the human reality that getting things done is the work of the many, not all, regardless of the “everyone needs to do their part and come together” rhetoric that defines a lofty goal that is seldom, if ever, witnessed in real life.
Anyone who has served on a committee, project team, or board knows that every group working toward a goal has members who do little or nothing to help the cause. Sometimes the deadwood goes so far as to pull in the opposite direction. But the success of the enterprise is dependent on enough of the folks working together to make the needed progress.
It’s always been that way, hasn’t it? For example, marriage equality is now a right and is exercised by folks who never cast a vote or contributed a dollar to bring it about, but they got married just the same. But that’s how that “and justice for all” thing works. All means all, not just the ones who worked for it.
Calls for unity often fall on deaf ears, particularly on the heels of the vitriol of the last four years. Or eight. Or twelve. Or fifty. But we have all been carried forward, time and time again, when enough of us come together to do what needs to be done.
Even Eisenhower, who planned and executed D-Day, lost 44% of the vote to Stevenson. This country doesn’t, nor does any other democracy, run with unanimous consent but with a governing majority. And that is what President Biden and the Democrats currently hold.
Last November, the American electorate said “Enough is enough” and fired the president. But are enough of us coming together to move forward? Sure, enough is enough. It always has been, as it is now.