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    ‘Brave Enough to See It, Brave Enough to Be It’

    By Andrea Shorter–

    What a difference a real president and vice president make.

    In the air remains a lingering, collective deep sigh of relief that two competent, dedicated, and seriously able adults are now in charge and stand in the heavily sanitized, smudge sticked, and exorcised room where building back better must happen. Within hours of a highly secure, beautiful, and historic inauguration ceremony gone off without a hitch or incident at the Capitol, the Biden-Harris era stepped lively into these darkest of moments, promptly took control of the levers of executive power, and pulled firmly for the common good.

    On his first day in office, President Biden with urgency issued 17 executive orders, presidential memoranda, and agency directives to get an idled government back into forward motion.  Simultaneous to signing a slate of COVID-19 related highest priority orders to accelerate languished and neglected science-based critical and coordinated federal response as the death toll officially climbed past 400,000 on the day he was sworn into office, President Biden also with 9 of the slate of actions began to reverse posthaste the former president’s odious policies.

    The actions address anti-Muslim immigration, building of the border wall, withdrawal from the World Health Organization, engagement in the Paris climate accord, the Keystone XL pipeline (President Biden revoked its permit), the Census (President Biden overturned the order excluding undocumented immigrants), and the 1776 commission and 1619 Project (the “patriotic education” Project concerning the historical impacts of slavery in America is now revoked).

    President Biden additionally issued an executive order to extend existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people, making for the most far-reaching sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive executive order ever directed by a U.S. president. In essence, the order directs all federal agencies to recognize that LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as was established in the 2020 Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock vs. Clayton County, Georgia. It is a major step forward to advance LGBTQ protections, reversing and pushing back against the series of particularly transgender discriminatory actions and policies of the Trump administration.

    Meanwhile, Vice President Harris swore into office the three new senators: Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Osoff, respectively the first African American and Jewish persons elected from Georgia, and former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla as her replacement, and the state’s first Latino senator. All make for a Democratic majority in the Senate: 50 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 48 Republicans, with Vice President Harris as President of the Senate being a crucial tie breaker when needed.

    Senate hearings are underway to review and confirm the most diverse, “looks like America” roster of cabinet nominees. The rainbow roster of nominees includes former presidential campaign rival Mayor Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation. An expected bipartisan confirmed Secretary Buttigieg would make history as the highest ranking openly LGBTQ person to serve in a Cabinet post since the Honorable Roberta Achtenberg, who is a former San Francisco supervisor and co-founder of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She was the first openly LGBTQ presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate to serve as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993, under President Bill Clinton. Just as we took to the streets to celebrate Assistant Secretary Achtenberg’s confirmation, I imagine the same glitter bomb bursts and revelry for Secretary Buttigieg, this time with face masks and socially distanced elbow bumps. 

    What a difference the Biden-Harris administration is already making to actually fashion a government in the likeness of the American people, in the attempted interest of all, and to restore our honor on the world stage.

    There will be no more megalomaniacal charlatan on center stage, surrounded by, as well as aided and abetted by, the least diverse compilation of fellow Americans since the Eisenhower years of the 1950s. After playing at mogul-ing on a TV reality show, Trump held disdain for the realities of an emerging racially diverse American demographic and managed to play at president-ing. In the end, the sum of his signature shameful achievements will have all resulted from his own shameless quest to establish eternal anti-democratic authoritarian power for self-dealing interest, in the guise of representing those feeling left behind and displaced by a multicultural democracy.

    Trump is now the only president to have been twice impeached, the second after directly inciting insurrection and mob violence by legions of aggrieved onto members of Congress, including his own Vice President, with the aim of directing actual blunt force to overturn the certified, legitimate election results declaring him the definitive loser—an incontrovertible truth to which he, as a pathological liar, will never concede. He is and will forever be undeniably the biggest loser.

    The noble and necessary notion of uniting a clearly divided and pandemic-fatigued nation held by a worthy President Biden and millions of us who hired him to lead us out of a dark and thorny wilderness calls for a continuous sober and honest account of why we are so divided, by what exactly we are divided, and a need to identify those who benefit from divisiveness.

    If President Biden is to be the President of all Americans—those who voted for him, those who did not—it won’t be enough to point to his diverse Cabinet and administration and actions to protect minority Americans and say, “We’re diverse. We’re here. Get used to it or get over it.” It will also require supporters of President Biden to sort out, recognize, and, where possible, respond to the legitimate concerns of Americans in opposition to his presidency. You know, real president-ing. However, it also requires that he not be deterred, held hostage, or acquiesce to the legitimate clear and present danger of a minor of dangerously radicalized, weaponized white nationalist terrorists fueled by a pathology of untruths and wild conspiracy theories.

    At the frothy white-hot center of the January 6 insurrection, seditious and murderous rampage on the Capitol commanded by the former president is the perpetual cause to disenfranchise non-white Americans. While not all voters for Trump are virulent racists or nativists, it will be a challenge to see how, and if it is possible, for historically oppressed groups to unite with people—including alt-right radicalized Congressional members—who are invested in maintaining anti-Black and other forms of racism as a central organizing principle to maintain political, cultural, and economic power and dominance.

    Perhaps one rallying point towards unity will reveal a decent majority of all voters in support for the passage of a John Lewis Voter Rights Act, an updated version of the Voter Rights Act of 1965. Legislation to do so passed the U.S. House last year but not the Senate. Rallying for passage of such an Act will undoubtedly test just how ready we really are for a brave new American unity.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-Founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Published on January 28, 2021