And suddenly, things felt different Tuesday. It was that cowardly GSA woman finally throwing in the towel. It was Laura Ingraham admitting it was over the night before. It was Donald Trump pardoning the turkeys, a self-abasing ritual for a president in the best of circumstances, but these were the worst of circumstances, and it was actually the first time in his presidency that I felt any empathy for him as I sat there imagining for, oh, at least 1.3 seconds what it must have taken for him to haul his lazy septuagenarian girth out there to do that.
But more than any of those images, it was the sight of Joe Biden and his new national security team standing up there and introducing themselves to America. Serious people. Public servants, who are in this for the right reasons. Not a grifter or gonef in the bunch. People who are qualified for the jobs to which they’re nominated, and people who will be given rein to do those jobs without having to worry that the president is going to tweet at 5:37 a.m. that he’s been rethinking things and maybe it’s time to sell Alaska after all.
And later on Tuesday, it was Biden again, solo this time, giving his first big transition-period interview to NBC’s Lester Holt. He talked like a president. Imagine. He didn’t pout or lash out or accuse Holt of bad faith. He gave answers that reflected that he has the public welfare in mind. And while he sounded notes of realism about the Senate he’ll probably have to deal with, he also laid out his ambition, which is not just to recover but to do more: “It’s a crisis that’s causing real mental stress for millions of people, and it’s in our power to solve it, and to grow the economy at the same time.”
Add all this up, and it comes to one simple point: It’s real now. I mean, it was real from that Saturday morning at 11:28 a.m., but now it’s really real. The Trump era is ending, and the Biden era is beginning.
Biden’s choices so far are great. In addition to the foreign policy team unveiled Tuesday afternoon in Wilmington, Janet Yellen for Treasury is absolutely an inspired choice. A former Fed chair has instant cred with those kinds of people, and she has very serious Keynesian cred too. This is not Tim Geithner redux by a longshot, and it’s perhaps a sign that whereas Barack Obama felt he had to calm the markets by taking in people like Geithner, Biden knows that he doesn’t haven’t to kowtow to “a bunch of fuckin’ bond traders” in the way that both Obama and Bill Clinton did, or felt they did (the quote was Clinton’s, during his transition). So this is exciting news.
Of course, we’ll have to see if all these people can get confirmed in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. Here’s a trivia question for you. Who was the last Democratic president to assume office without a majority in the Senate from his own party?
You have to go back—are you ready?—to Grover Cleveland. And not even the second term, after the four-year interregnum, but his first term. Yep—1885 was the last time a Democratic president didn’t have a Senate majority to help push his appointees through.
It’ll be very interesting to see how McConnell plays this when the time comes. I have to think that Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins will vote for most Cabinet nominees, and maybe even a few other Republicans here and there. But McConnell will choose two or three to mess with, just because he can. They’ll gin up some phony scandal on the person, because that’s how they start the “corrupt Biden administration” narrative that they’ll need to be in fifth gear by the time the midterms come around.
But all that’s for later. What’s for right now is the very good news that this is happening. States are certifying the results. It’s done. Of course, as soon as I write that, I think uh-oh, I better not, but it sure seems done. And now, we can begin to imagine a future where, well, we’re not exactly rid of him, but where we don’t have to give a fuck about whatever steaming bullshit flies out of his mouth. His statements, his tweets, won’t be news anymore. MSNBC and CNN won’t (I hope and assume) cover them, because soon they won’t be policy. He can say whatever he wants about the markets or a cop shooting or North Korea or anything, and we just don’t have to care.
And meanwhile, the guy to whom we will be listening, the guy whose every sentence will potentially be news, is a normal and decent human being who is also knowledgeable about policy and about the world and is also, and this is the main thing, someone who knows and understands in a sincere way that he is a public servant.
I loved that moment last week at that presser when someone asked him about the consequences of the Trump people not sharing virus info with him and his people. He didn’t talk about himself. He didn’t say how it affected him. He said he was concerned that more people would die.
That’s a president. It should be unremarkable, but after four years of this infantile and solipsistic behavior, it feels like a miracle.