“Rebirth of a Nation,” a slow-moving epic now playing on a news screen near you, is a movie-like reality tale of a shattered nation hopelessly warring with itself — and hopefully healing itself.
It has just reached a stunning, perhaps climactic, twist. It is the sort of real-life reversal that know-it-all reviewers probably would have panned as corny — way too Hollywood.
But they didn’t pan it. Because it was precisely the sort of feel-good switcheroo our nation’s despairing moviegoers have desperately longed to see.
The key to this shattered nation’s hoped-for rebirth turns out to be the somewhat parallel rebirth of its unlikeliest leading man, who was, himself, a personally shattered leader. He is also probably not exactly your idea of a suave, smooth-talking superhero. He’s just your Average Joe. And as this flick’s entire global audience already knows, he has endured an unrelenting onslaught of tragedies.
But each time, we have seen Joe Biden grieve but continue on, rising from each personal challenge to play a still grander leadership role and continue to find ways of helping his fellow citizens, professionally and personally. (I have known Joe Biden rather well for some four decades and seen him rise to deal with each personal challenge while still fulfilling his public leadership roles.)
Over the decades, we all could feel those emotional heart tugs that we knew Joe Biden was experiencing. And we all thought about that as we watched this latest soap-operatic turn of his story stream across our news screens on Wednesday, his Inauguration Day.
And this time, even those viewers who were never Joe Biden’s political or personal fans found themselves feeling truly hopeful, at last — wanting him to be right and maybe even being willing to follow his leadership. Just this once!
Because everyone knew he was right when, in his inaugural address, he dished some straight talk to the egos of Hate City. He told them it was urgent that they stop hating and try working together. Just this once. To unite our United States of America.
Some of us understood that Biden’s rebirth of a nation began, in a sense, as a rebirth of a notion that many of us remember quite well, when it was spoken by another average-American guy, in another troubled time. Joe Biden’s words began where Jerry Ford’s words left off in 1974. Ford had just been sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigned to avoid certain impeachment and conviction for his Watergate crimes and cover-up lies.
“I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together,” said Ford. “… That bond, though strained, is unbroken at home and abroad.”
At the Capitol, average-American Joe Biden officially became our 46th president and picked up right where average-American Jerry Ford had left off.
“There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit,” Biden said. “And each of us has a duty and responsibility … especially as leaders … to defend the truth and defeat the lies. … I give you my word, I will always level with you.”
President Donald Trump’s avalanche of lies — his claims that the 2020 election was rigged and he really won by a “landslide” — incited and enraged his supporters. Trump pushed them to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and somehow halt congressional certification of his defeat. Trump’s gang smashed and bashed, occupying the Congress, killing and maiming cops. But Congress eventually did its constitutional duty.
Earlier on Inauguration Day, as the world watched the streaming of this day that was the rebirth of our nation, the cameras showed us an aerial view of the White House South Lawn — at just the right moment. As the Marine One helicopter waited silently, we saw two small figures walk toward the chopper and climb inside. The rotors whirred. The chopper rose and headed south.
Donald Trump was on his way to his Mar-a-Lago Elba.
Later, at the capital, the global audience watching this movie as breaking news understood Trump’s incitement and Biden’s inauguration must be forever linked.
“Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground,” said Biden. “It did not happen. It will never happen….
“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 souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
The Rebirth of a Nation, an epic-in-progress, streams on.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.