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Opinion: ‘President Biden’ — feels good, doesn’t it?

President Biden signs his first executive orders in the White House Oval Office on Jan. 20.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. In last week’s newsletter I warned that the looming impeachment trial and a collective sense of trauma meant the last president would almost certainly be the focus of future newsletters — but thankfully, that isn’t true for this week’s edition. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Joe Biden was inaugurated and, well, that’s it. Forgive me if I intermittently type “President Biden,” because uttering those words feels so oddly soothing after four years of incompetence and malevolence from the White House. This isn’t to say Biden was my first choice among Democrats to topple the 45th president (that honor belonged to the inimitable national treasure Elizabeth Warren), but hearing our new commander in chief express more empathy in his first hour on the job than his predecessor has probably felt in a lifetime came across as, well, Lincolnesque.

So, how’s the new president doing so far? Pretty well, if doing everything not to be like the last president is the standard. The Times Editorial Board observes that it feels pretty nice to have a leader with an actual COVID-19 plan, one that isn’t revolutionary but rather so maddeningly common sense that it could have been implemented by any president except our last one. It’s also heartening, the board says, that Biden is rescinding the last administration’s cruel immigration policies and, more ambitiously, calling on Congress to give temporary legal status to 11 million migrants and put them on a path to citizenship.

More than policies, so much of the importance of this change in leadership is wrapped up in the tone set by an administration that actually cares about more people than just its supporters, and what it means to have a woman of color as our vice president. As for tone, Biden has told America what it desperately needed to hear, writes former Bill Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman: The president denounced white supremacy, reaffirmed the country’s commitment to democracy and rebuked the dishonesty and nihilism of the last administration — and he did it in plain, relatable language. Kamala Harris’ inauguration as vice president, writes Dipti S. Barot, is a pivotal moment with regard to representation in a country where something other than whiteness and maleness were considered a poor fit for leadership.

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When you consider the alternative — at least four more years of capricious, racist, uncaring leadership — I’d say we’re in a better place.

Don’t let Mitch McConnell ruin Biden’s presidency. Kill the filibuster. The Senate minority leader (another thing that feels good to type!) is using the threat of a filibuster to hold up the enactment of a rules resolution for the new Senate because he wants to preserve ... the filibuster. “Right now, the chamber that calls itself the world’s greatest deliberative body can’t even debate how to arrange itself, all because McConnell wants to stop Democrats from even considering an end to filibusters,” the editorial board writes. “How embarrassing.” L.A. Times

“There are no wagons to circle against the threat because the threat is us.” That line from Robin Abcarian’s Inauguration Day column on the newfound fragility of American democracy stopped me in my tracks. Whereas past attacks meant to bring this country to its knees came from beyond our shores, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will prove exponentially more difficult to resolve because the attackers are American. Abcarian describes her resolve to no longer to give anyone who peddles dangerous election conspiracy theories the benefit of the doubt. L.A. Times

Harris’ inauguration is a cause for celebration, but ... it came amid generations of ongoing suffering by Black women across this country, writes LZ Granderson: “Kamala Harris’ rise to the vice presidency is a great step forward, but it is also an indictment of this country’s caste system. Many nations around the world have already had women in the highest office. Yet here in our shining city on a hill, we have witnessed an insurrection at the Capitol with domestic terrorists trying to overturn the election that includes our first female Black vice president. So forgive me if my optimism is tempered a bit.” L.A. Times

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Kevin McCarthy was the California Republican everyone liked, and he came to power because of that, writes Miriam Pawel. He’s anything but likable after he amplified the last president’s voter fraud lie, and he’s getting plenty of home-state blowback for it: “Former U.S. Representative Bill Thomas of California denounced his protégé as a hypocrite. The Sacramento Bee called Mr. McCarthy ‘a soulless anti-democracy conspirator.’ In an emotional video, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose 2006 election marked the last time a Republican was elected statewide in California, took aim at ‘spineless’ Republican elected officials who acted as enablers for the president’s lies. ‘They are complicit with those who carried the flag of self-righteous insurrection into the Capitol,’ the former governor said. ‘We need public servants that serve something larger than their own power or their own party.’” New York Times

A running question: What does it take to get vaccinated around here? Editorial writer Karin Klein had friends with insider knowledge clue her in on available doses for those over 65, but she describes feeling pangs of guilt over getting inoculated ahead of so many others who have only the public-facing information provided by government officials. On our letters page, L.A. Times readers who describe themselves as older than 65 relate their frustration and despair watching mass vaccination sites open that seem to be for anyone but them.

Stay in touch.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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