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With Due Respect

An oxymoron: A divided United States

Joe Biden took his oath as the 46th American president amid an oxymoron: A divided United States that he pledged to unite and heal in his historic inaugural address.

Historic, indeed, is Biden’s vow to restore order; to revive the rule of law; to heal his countrymen worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic; to earn the support of the 74 million who did not vote for him; to lift his nation from economic depression; to reverse his predecessor’s immigration policies; and to regain the trust of the democracies the United States abandoned during the last four years. But is he up to the job?

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Let us see. Biden was born to poor parents of Irish descent… Of a blue-collar father who instilled in him toughness and hard work… Was, as a child, mocked as a stutterer… Overcame this deficiency by memorizing poems and repeating them in front of a mirror… Washed windows and weeded gardens to help pay for his high school tuition… Studied history and political science before finishing law unexceptionally, ranking 76th in a class of 85.

Biden married Neilia Hunter in 1966… Had three children with her—Beau, Hunter, and Naomi… Was widowed early when Neilia and one-year-old Naomi were killed in an automobile accident on Dec. 18, 1972 while shopping for a Christmas tree… Was consoled by the survival of Beau and Hunter, but was nonetheless devastated and considered suicide… Recovered eventually… Married five years later, in 1977, his second wife, Jill Tracy Jacobs, and begot daughter Ashley Blazer in 1981.

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Riding above his personal misfortunes, Biden was elected senator from his native Delaware six times, 1973-2009… Aspired for a Democratic Party nomination for president in 1987 but withdrew after being reported to have plagiarized a speech… Was diagnosed shortly thereafter, in 1988, with life-threatening brain aneurysms which were surgically removed… Forayed, again in 2007, to be the Dems’ nominee for president but backed out (again) after receiving less than one percent of the first caucus ballots… Was asked by the winner, Barack Obama, to be his vice-presidential teammate for two terms, 2008-2016… Wanted to succeed Obama but dropped out (again) from the caucuses due to his inconsolable grief over the death of his son Beau in 2015 (Hillary Clinton won the nomination but lost the election to Donald Trump)… Won the presidency in 2020 as the oldest in US history at 78, and the second Catholic ever.

Biden’s tragedies and triumphs are similar to an American hero who was born 211 years ago on Feb. 12, 1809… And who at age 7, had to work to help his family… At 9, was orphaned by his mother… At 28, was broken-hearted as his marriage proposal was turned down… At 37, was finally elected to Congress on his third try… At 45, was defeated in a senatorial election… At 47, failed in his attempt to be vice president… At age 51, was elected as the 16th US president.

He is Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest US presidents, credited with unifying his country amid a ghastly civil war and with freeing black Americans from slavery and poverty.

Lincoln’s narrow victory (he won only 40 percent of the popular vote among four candidates) was not accepted by the Southern Confederate States of America which rejected him in the popular vote and in the Electoral College. After leading the North in winning the civil war that ensued, he pledged “with malice towards none” and forgave without punishing the leaders of the Confederacy led by Gen. Robert Lee. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, who could not accept they lost the war.

Like Lincoln, Biden forthrightly offered, in his inaugural address, reconciliation and unity to the 74 million who did not vote for him, especially to the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters and mobs, perorating, “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this—if we open our soul instead of hardening our hearts.”

May all the peace-loving peoples of the world celebrate with Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet (at 22) to speak during a US presidential transition, orating, “… But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated… We will not march back to what was. But move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”

Amen! And may the USA be an oxymoron no more.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, US Politics, With Due Respect
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