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The company they keep: the transformed GOP

Part 1

Trump got out of Dodge early on the morning of Jan. 20, which was in keeping with his character. Of course, he knew his departure was the equivalent of riding off on a rusty bicycle, trailing in his wake spokes, fenders and sprocket, a broken chain dragging on a pitted tarmac. There were dumpster fires everywhere, clearly visible in his rearview mirror. Should he bother to look.

He was headed for Mar-a-Lago south, his version of summer camp with room service and golf carts.

Well aware of what confronted them, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have assembled a team not of rivals but of the supremely prepared, a deep bench of the willing who know that their journey going forward will follow in the harrowing footsteps of Lincoln (the secession of the South followed by the Civil War); FDR (the Great Depression with crushing unemployment); and Obama (an economic meltdown often referred to as the nation’s Second Great Depression).

And so, Biden et al. distilled what was before them into four crises, each requiring “Go Big” solutions, and each defined by a deep sense of urgency. America was a nation in desperate need and awash in wrenching pain.

The first and foremost crisis: a once-in-a-century pandemic. America’s death toll will soon reach 500,000. Some who are stricken and survive seem unable to recover. The response by the previous administration was Big Pharma partnering with the federal government (called Operation Warp Speed), the effort quickly and brilliantly delivering two (and counting) efficacious vaccines. What was not delivered was an infrastructure for getting said vaccines into the arms of more than 300 million Americans. Simply sending boxes of refrigerated vaccines (with expiration dates) to the underfunded states meant that Warp Speed remained in first gear. And now there are the COVID-19 variants, more contagious and perhaps more lethal, we’re told. Time is of the essence.

The second crisis: The takedown of the economy by the virus has been deeply damaging in countless ways. Team Biden’s all-in, Go Big response is a $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Package. The need is great, a spectrum of hurt that cannot be resolved piecemeal, or in protracted negotiations with the suddenly fiscally responsible Republicans who passed a massive tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy, while spending billions on the military and a wall. The cost of doing too little, however, will exceed the cost of doing too much.

The third crisis: Climate change, an existential threat for which there is no vaccine. Biden has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord. But the global window to avoiding irreversible climate change catastrophe is soon closing. And the response cannot be unilateral; rather, it must be worldwide. And therein is the rub. The United Nations warns that carbon emissions must fall by half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

The fourth crisis: Racial equity and justice, meaning the quality of being fair and impartial. It is an issue that must transcend dialogue and made manifest in law and policy. To reconcile our written aspirations with our past (and present) is a moral imperative. Time is of the essence.

I would add a fifth: Immigration and suggest a bipartisan commission to draft legislation that would address DACA, the 11 million undocumented residents within our borders, and those desperate migrants who arrive at our southern border daily. We are also facing an epidemic of gun violence.

This trifecta-plus-two would ideally include a bipartisan, country-before-party response. The search for unity by President Biden is laudable. But I would urge that this newly formed administration first take the full measure of the Republican Party. This GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln or Eisenhower. That was then, and this is now. It has been transformed into something else, as the incited insurrection of Jan. 6 revealed. More to follow.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist