Our long national nightmare is over

February 16, 2021

Following the turbulent end of the Trump presidency and the ugly episodes at the Capitol and elsewhere in our country, the vast center of our populace must now give President Biden a real chance to dissolve the recriminations, the anger, and, yes, the hatred that have come to represent the face of the American polity. 

Uniting the factions that divide us may not be possible, but eliminating the venomous hostilities engendered by self-centered politicians, a ratings-obsessed media, and extremists intent on societal warfare is a goal that all of us should embrace. We have faced long odds in this regard in the past, and we overcame them.

With my historical bent, I tend to look to the past for moments that mirror the present. Such a moment is the day of Aug. 9, 1974, when Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a disgraced Richard Nixon. The country then, too, was riven by dissent and violence. Richard Nixon was hated with a vehemence that Donald Trump doesn’t experience on his worst day. Vietnam still raged, marches on Washington were common and the bombing of the Capitol by the left-wing Weather Underground was in the recent past. Into this morass of discontent stepped Gerald Ford.

Ford, much like Joe Biden, was a creature of Congress. Like Biden, he was well-liked, respected as a hard worker and an honest broker whose word was his bond. He was not seen, however, as of presidential stature. But when thrust into office at that turbulent time, he rose to the occasion. In a speech to the nation, Ford conveyed a message of hope and conciliation that Joe Biden should focus on now that he is president.

Ford said: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over… Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule… As we bind up the internal wounds… let us restore the golden rule to our political process and… purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.” And, most appropriate to the current moment, “… so I ask you to confirm me as YOUR [emphasis mine] President with your prayers.”

Joe Biden looks to me to be cut from the same cloth as Gerald Ford. But, he can’t alone bridge what divides us. It is we who must recognize the humanity in others, who must break free from acrimony and stubborn partisanship. It is we who must purge our hearts of “suspicion and hate.” It is we who should pray for Joe Biden’s success in forming a partnership with all that is still great in the American experiment with democratic governance. 

The coming days won’t be easy for our country or President Biden. He may have to take actions that many won’t like and accrue to him no short-term benefits. But his task is beyond the immediate. He must be willing to be judged by history as having done the right thing regardless of contemporary impact. 

At the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., is a display of which he was most proud. It is the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award presented annually to a person who has exhibited great courage under the most trying of circumstances. Among the honored recipients are those such as Rosa Parks, John McCain and John Lewis. Perhaps one day, Caroline Kennedy will bestow the award on Joe Biden for the exemplary courage he showed in bringing  together in common purpose Americans of all stripes.

Richard Claypoole is former director of Presidential Libraries and Museums, and lives in Lewes.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter