Comparing Then and Now

Alan Zendell, July 6, 2021

Running for re-election in 1984, Ronald Reagan asked Americans if they were better off than they were when he took office. Yesterday, President Biden delivered an Independence Day speech that asked Americans to compare where we were a year ago with how things are today. It was an uplifting speech, reminding us how far we’ve come in combating the pandemic, emerging from our darkest days and being able to hug each other again. No more visiting our friends and loved ones virtually or with a pane of glass separating us from them, hands pretending to touch on either side of the glass.

Biden talked about government as a tool for helping people, that during his five-and-a-half months in office, government resources were mobilized to assure that vaccines were available to everyone who wanted them, that millions who lost jobs as a result of COVID were kept afloat by stimulus checks while our economy re-opened. Republicans since Ronald Reagan have postured the government as the enemy; Biden re-asserted the notion that the government has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of all Americans in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson.

He didn’t brag about the size of the crowd cheering him or the booming stock market. Rather than boasting about increasing the wealth of the richest Americans and sustaining a tax code that places the burden of paying America’s bills on the middle class, he repeated his consistent theme that we’re all in this together. Maximizing the use of government resources moved America from the nation whose response to the pandemic was one of the worst and deadliest in the world to one whose recovery and use of vaccines outstrips every other developed nation’s. Rather than suggesting that he knew more than all of his advisors and Cabinet officers and claiming personal credit for our success, he shared it with every American.

Biden’s nature is to focus on the positive while reminding us that recovery is a long process that cannot be taken for granted. But it’s also important to remember how much we’ve lost, how much damage his predecessor did to our country. Biden won’t ever directly attack Donald Trump. It’s not his style. But with Trump in the wings attempting to disrupt and obstruct everything Biden does, the rest of us don’t have that luxury. Biden asked us to compare this Independence Day with a year ago. I would expand the question.

If Americans continue to be vaccinated, COVID should just be a bad memory a year or two from now. The more serious threat to our country is the internal divisions that have come to dominate our politics and personal lives. They weren’t created by Donald Trump, but his political movement thrives on them the way a vampire survives by draining the lifeblood from its victims.

America has never fully realized the fruition of its founding ideals, but each of the generations since slavery was abolished has been better than the one before it. We have a long way to go, but let’s give ourselves some credit for how far we had come, at least until 2015. The clearest measure of how little Trump cares about America is that virtually everything he said and did in the past six years has been part of an attempt to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made at realizing the dream of universal equality and opportunity. That means reversing progress in equality before the law, learning to treasure diversity rather than suppress it. It means widening rather than narrowing the income gap between gender and racial groups. It means abandoning our decades-long attempt to balance capitalism against the need to support the health and welfare of every American.

But that’s not the worst harm Trumpism has done and continues to do. Trump attempted to redefine truth and distort our notion of greatness. Greatness is not isolation and separation or a society defined by hatred and bigotry. We don’t get to be a great nation simply by claiming to be one. The divisiveness and anger unleashed and nurtured by Trump has affected our personal lives, too. Do you know anyone who hasn’t had long-standing friendships destroyed by Trumpism or experienced the same disaffection within families, parents and children, siblings, cousins, people they once valued and loved who we barely speak to each other any more?

That’s the sad legacy of the Trump administration and the thing Joe Biden most desperately wants to help us heal from. He does it by positive example, but it’s up to us to heal ourselves. Those who continue to spout lies and hate cannot be allowed to have a dominant voice. We know who they are. We can rid ourselves of them when we next cast our votes.

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3 Responses to Comparing Then and Now

  1. William Kiehl says:

    Trump seems to wax nostalgic about the 1950’s. Yes, for some Americans, the 1950’s were good. However for Black Americans, it was not so good. Many could not vote, sit at Whites Only lunch counters and had to ride in the back if the bus. Good old days indeed?

    Women were basically barefoot and pregnant and were denied entrance to many professions. Hispanic Americans were expected to harvest crops and be invisible.

    Trump and his supporters want to return to those days. No thanks.

  2. Barry says:

    Are you in favor of open borders, huge deficits,and giving people money so they dont have to work. Are you in favor of a president who reads from a script and doesn’t answer real questions. Nobody liked Trumps personality and he spoke like a adolescent but his policies were much better than what is happening now.

    • William Kiehl says:

      So you are OK with an attempted coup and botched pandemic response resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans? Biden is no messiah, he is the quintessential lesser of two evils, but Trump is an incompetent liar. Are you alright with the liar in Chief?

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