Shortly after noon on August 9, 1974, in the East Room of the White House, Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States. His first words after taking the oath of office were “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
Thus ended the 5½-year presidency of Richard Nixon, a period cloaked in conspiracy, illegality, dirty political tricks and, of course, to be identified for all time with Watergate. In contrast, his vice president and successor, Jerry Ford, was widely viewed as moral, gregarious, law-abiding. He neither engendered nor exhibited extreme feelings, political or emotional.
The transition from Nixon to Ford heralded an escape from political chaos and an aura of lies into calm, honesty, trust, generosity of spirit. Ford may have been plain vanilla, but his demeanor was desperately needed after over 5 years of chocolate thunder. Once Nixon left office, there remained no abiding acolytes.
Ford’s pardon of Nixon was controversial at the time, and caused an uproar–yet did not last. Ford explained that not pardoning Nixon would let the wounds of his predecessor’s actions fester through endless trials; he believed it was better for the country to put an end to it. Many have since come to agree.
While the weeks between today and January 20, 2021, may portend continued political anxiety, the eventual transition from the incumbent President to Biden may echo similar to that of Ford’s assumption of office: from Armageddon to relative calm. P45’s four-year rule was exhausting, defined by constant mendacity and henchmen and -women willing to do his bidding for the dubious honor of reflected glory. And like Ford, Joe Biden is regarded as an honest, well-liked individual with decades of honorable service to his country.
But the end of a “long national nightmare?” Not necessarily. Even when the turmoil of the election is over, the rancor 45 bestowed will likely remain a potent force for discord and an albatross for the GOP. Biden and the nation must be on guard for a part of the populace that wants to take over with arms, to prevent the government from taking over; one that wants to force its religious and moral values on all; and, perhaps most deadly, one that cannot and/or will not differentiate truth from false belief. But the President-elect’s goal is similar to Ford’s pronouncement; on November 7 he met the challenge with, “Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end.”
As with Jerry Ford in 1974, Joe Biden is just what we need now—perhaps more so than a President Warren or Sanders would have been. The progressive ideas may not be as bold. Yet Biden, as did Ford, has a steadfastness and honesty that we have yearned for. Beneath the nice-guy calm, however, the new president will need the strength of steel to ensure that those who want to tear apart this country do not succeed. Jerry Ford changed what this country felt like. Here’s hoping Joe Biden does the same.
This is a much more dangerous moment for the nation than was 1974. The vote was far closer than polls predicted, with the final results revealing some 8 million more voters than in 2016 favoring the incumbent. Will they accept the election results? The rule of law in general? We can hope, but such remains to be seen. And the confluence of COVID-19 has provided an additional excuse for animus against political leaders who take measures to protect their citizens but are seen instead as “closing down America.” With the tacit—and sometimes outright—approval of Trump, militia groups and others have gone farther than ever before in utilizing Second-Amendment memes to promote the use of guns in harassing citizens and in mobilizing demonstrations in the capitals of Virginia and Michigan.
Joe Biden faces seemingly endless challenges, as there is much to undo and redo from his predecessor’s years. But the Biden persona presents as one that reassures, one that says, ‘we can handle this together.’ It is a soothing notion.
As with Jerry Ford in 1974, Joe Biden is just who we need now. The governing policy ideas may not be as bold as were those of his competitors. Yet Biden, as did Ford, possesses a steadfastness and honesty that the nation needs. Beneath the nice-guy calm, however, the new president will need the strength of steel to ensure that those who want to tear apart this country do not succeed. Jerry Ford changed what this country felt like. Here’s hoping Joe Biden does the same. Decency wins. It is indeed fortunate that our country has individuals such as these when they are needed most.