Today marks the end of the turbulent Trump presidency. Let us rejoice and be glad. As President Joe Biden starts his term, let all of us, regardless of political persuasion, rally around our new leader and wish him good health and success in guiding the ship of state. Having been privileged to serve as a commanding officer four times in my naval career, I’ve always been impressed at the amount of good will a new captain inherits from the crew as he or she assumes command. They want their captain to succeed because life is usually much better onboard when he does and can be miserable when he doesn’t. Republicans won’t always agree with him, but they should conduct themselves as the loyal opposition and not the enemy.
Mr. Biden has promised to be president to all Americans including the many who didn’t vote for him and to work toward restoring unity. That won’t be easy because we are much divided. Unfortunately, unity, to many at each extreme of the political spectrum, means that everyone must always agree with me and refrain from promoting a different view. It means that my view is the correct one and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and I am justified in demonizing and even silencing them. Seeking common ground today is difficult because, on many polarizing issues, there just doesn’t seem to be any. But that shouldn’t preclude efforts to compromise which means, inevitably, that each side must yield some ground. Biden has been in politics long enough to know how that works.
Donald Trump has left, hopefully never to run for office again. But his followers remain and so does the movement he inspired. Seventy-four million votes were cast for him, the second-highest total ever compiled by a presidential candidate. It would be naive to think that they will just fade away, especially when so many believe that the election was stolen, just as so many Democrats believe that Trump’s 2016 victory was not legitimate. Rightly or wrongly, many Americans have doubts about the integrity of our elections and will not be persuaded otherwise until reforms are enacted by some state legislatures to avoid some of the issues that resulted during this election including eleventh-hour changes to procedures and timelines and prolonged vote counting beyond election day.
President Biden has said that now is a time for healing. That sentiment would have been more reassuring had he advised against impeaching a lame duck president in his final week in office. Healing will not be facilitated by continued attempts to punish a former president and seek revenge against his supporters and those who served in his administration. That’s what happens in banana republics. It will prolong bitterness and division, create martyrs and will distract from the Biden agenda. Winning elections, as Mr. Biden did, is enough revenge. True healing will also be facilitated by governing as the moderate that most Americans identify as.
An impeachment trial in the Senate could drag on for weeks, dominating the news and tying up the Senate in the early days of the Biden Administration when he should be focusing on real problems and getting off to the running start he needs to deal with issues that cannot wait. But Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, just can’t seem to stop themselves from keeping Trump and his followers in the news. It might come as a surprise to them, but that’s probably what he craves and it energizes his followers. The 116th Congress was preoccupied with removing Trump from office and it accomplished little else besides making history by impeaching a president twice.
As I’ve said before, Mr. Biden’s first priority must be getting Americans vaccinated for COVID-19 and back to work. Operation Warp Speed brought us vaccinations in record time but the logistics of getting the vaccines into people’s arms was left largely to the states with the usual mixed, mostly unimpressive, results. China recovered from the pandemic which started there, much faster than we did and we have some catching up to do. There will be much pressure on the president to focus on domestic priorities but foreign affairs need at least equal attention. 2020 was a horrible year, punctuated by riots and unrest on top of a pandemic and 2021 has not started out much better. Riots and assaults on police for any reason or in the name of any cause need to stop and that will require zero tolerance for aggressive and belligerent demonstrators who try to incite violence. A common sentiment heard during the disgraceful assault on the Capitol building and Congress by Trump supporters was “This is not who we are.” Really? You could have fooled me. It seems, increasingly, to be at least part of what we’re becoming. Demonstrations that become confrontational incite riots. They are a national embarrassment and provide fuel for the likes of Xi Jingping and Vladimir Putin who tell their people that this is exactly who we are: undisciplined, divided and disrespectful of authority while they extol the supposed virtues of their communist systems where demonstrations against authority or criticism of the party is, to put it mildly, strongly discouraged.
Our adversaries rejoice in the fact that Americans are divided which makes us weaker and vulnerable to foreign provocation. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The changing of administrations is always a time of heightened security concerns, none greater than this troubled transition. Biden will be tested early by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. China represents by far the gravest international threat. It is imperative that he display resolve in the face of any provocations such as cyber warfare, any further threats to freedom of navigation or outrageous claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea or any international waters, or attempts to dictate to us what our policy toward Taiwan must be. That resolve must not be limited to toothless rhetoric but must be backed by visible strength, increased naval presence in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans and strengthened military and trade alliances with Japan, Australia, India and other friendly Indo-Pacific powers.