America, where do we go from here?

It’s a fair and necessary question.

Two weeks after our now-former President Donald Trump incited an attempted violent overthrow of the government and one day after the already horrifying nationwide death toll from COVID-19 topped 400,000 and counting, it would be easy to feel hopeless about the future of our nation.

Not since the Civil War have we faced a greater challenge to our country’s survival. 

But if we believe in this thing called democracy we’ve been honing for 232 years, hopelessness isn’t an option.

To hope, people far wiser than I have said, requires faith — a faith in the idea that no matter how desperate a situation may seem, things can get better. And it’s up to us to make that happen.

Call me old fashioned, but Wednesday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden went a long way toward reinforcing my hope, my faith, and my understanding of where our country goes from here.

To be clear, Biden is no savior, no superman. He’s just a human being, flawed like the rest of us, who may just be uniquely qualified to help right this battered and limping nation of ours.

I often half-joked during the presidential campaign that, while I preferred at least one or two of the other Democratic candidates to Biden, perhaps the only person who could beat a white, male, racist septuagenarian like Trump was a white, male, non-racist septuagenarian like Biden. I figured that, given how many white males (and non-white males, for that matter) still can’t fathom the thought of electing a woman or person of color president, Biden, for many of them, probably seemed a safe alternative to Trump.

Seventy-four million votes for Trump later, and it seems I was right. I’m not saying everyone who voted for Trump is racist, but it seems pretty clear to me that most racists vote Republican.

Biden, of course, has other redeeming qualities besides not being a racist.

One big thing about Biden is he cares about people and the future of this country. Trump, to quote Biden’s inaugural address, cared more about telling lies “for power and for profit.”

Biden’s famed knack for empathizing with people who have suffered in life is real. But what excites me most is that thing we expect but often do not get from elected officials: a commitment to public service.

Has Biden ever caved to the pressures of political expediency in lieu of simply doing what’s right? Of course he has. The man’s been a politician for nearly 50 years. Sadly, and more now than ever, it comes with the territory.

But the issue here isn’t whether Biden has lived a perfect life, but whether he’s learned enough from his mistakes to make him the right person for the job he has today.

I believe he has. Now contrast that with Trump, who has behaved virtually every waking moment of his existence like he had nothing to learn and no obligation to do anything that didn’t personally benefit him.

Plus, unlike Trump, Biden understands how government works, and our crippled nation is in desperate need of a functioning government.

If you’re of the Reaganesque frame of mind that “. . . government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” then I’ve got nothing for you.

While government is certainly not the fix for every, or maybe even most, problems we face, no government can meet its core obligation of keeping the people healthy and safe without an effective and responsive government.

Knowing how government works and the good it can do may actually be Biden’s true superpower. 

And after four years of living through the reign of the single most incompetent, self-serving president in American history — and in the face of a catastrophic global pandemic that he tried to wish away — an experienced government technocrat who happens to be chock-full of empathy may be exactly what this country needs.

For the sake of our nation, I hope I’m right.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.