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‘Restoring the First Brick of Dignity’: Biden Supporters on His Inauguration

michael barbaro

From The New York Times. I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

For millions of Americans, the past four years have been a national trauma. Today: As Joe Biden prepares to take the oath of office and become the 46th president of the United States, some of his supporters are filled with hope, some with concern, but all with relief. It’s Wednesday, January 20.

brian keane

There he is.

michael barbaro

Hey, Brian.

brian keane

Hey, Michael. How’s it going? It’s been a long year, huh?

michael barbaro

Has it ever.

brian keane

Boy, oh, boy.

michael barbaro

Well, Brian, I’m sure you remember the last time that we talked.

brian keane

Yeah.

michael barbaro

And let me refresh your — let me refresh our listeners’ memory. Because you surely remember it. It was right before Super Tuesday in the middle of the Democratic primary. And you were a deeply conflicted Democratic voter, because —

brian keane

Yes.

michael barbaro

— you loved Joe Biden. You had a personal connection with him dating back to your college days, when he spoke at an event that you organized. And what you told us when we spoke to you back then was that you feared Joe Biden was not necessarily the right candidate to beat back Bernie Sanders, who was ascendant at that moment, and whose views you disagreed with. And you frankly feared that Joe Biden was not necessarily the right candidate to beat back President Trump. And I want to just remind you of what you said back then. You said —

brian keane

So I love Joe. Joe’s my guy, but he has not been a strong candidate. I think he doesn’t look good. I think he’s not sounding good. And Joe Biden, who is a great guy, is playing by a rule book that was written in 1980 — maybe, 1972. And that’s really concerning to me. Because Donald Trump’s going to filet him —

michael barbaro

— very quickly. So just to put this very bluntly, you were wrong on both fronts, because Biden did beat Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday, and afterwards, he beat President Trump by 7 million votes. So is there anything you want to say for yourself?

brian keane

Sure. This is what my daughter calls the “Brian Keane Effect.”

michael barbaro

[LAUGHTER]

brian keane

The very next day, Biden just rolled over everybody else and won all those primaries. It was unbelievable, right? It was Virginia. It was South Carolina. It was everything. And he was the de facto nominee —

michael barbaro

Right.

brian keane

— literally the next day. And that’s the Joe we were looking for. And by the way, the next day I voted for Joe. And so ultimately the Democrats picked the right candidate to do that.

michael barbaro

What do you think was at the core of your wrongness? Not to put that too weird.

brian keane

Well, my wrongness was actually more, not so much a wrongness as a struggle that I think a lot of voters were having, which is: Do we go with the dignity of a guy like Joe Biden, or the fight of either a Bernie Sanders or a Michael Bloomberg? And that was really the challenge. Which one is going to win? And actually I think at the end of the day, what we saw — and I think what this country sees, particularly now — is really that it’s the dignity of a guy like Biden that won people over.

michael barbaro

In our original conversation, what you seemed to fear was that Biden, in terms of his energy, his presence, his very nature —

brian keane

Yeah, right. Yeah.

michael barbaro

— might not be up for the task of winning the primary and beating Donald Trump. And if that was your fear back then, is it your fear that he might not be up to the challenge of this very unique and pretty dark moment, now that he has won, which is somehow governing as president successfully at what feels like a breaking point in the United States?

brian keane

Yeah, it’s good. That’s a — it’s a good point from before to now. And to me, he’s proven his mettle in the way he’s run his campaign.

michael barbaro

What do you mean?

brian keane

In part — well, because he’s been so consistent in not taking the bait. And he was always above it. And it was like, oh, this is a guy, he’s not going to get down there and play that name-calling game. He’s going to keep focused and do the job.

michael barbaro

What you would call “dignity.”

brian keane

Yes, exactly. And it was like, oh, he’s already president.

michael barbaro

It sounds like you’re saying that Joe Biden will model the unity he wants himself in his conduct as president. And so I wonder what signs, or images or rhetoric you will see from him that makes you think that he’s on the right track towards trying to build unity in this moment?

brian keane

Well, in order to build unity, I think we have to almost break some of the notions that we assume, which is: What is unity? Because quite frankly, to some folks, unity sounds like weakness right now. Oh, you know what? We’re not going to have unity. How can I stand there with people who have, quite frankly, stood and watched people invade the U.S Capitol?”

michael barbaro

They incited them.

brian keane

Right. They have to be punished for it. We can’t just be unified with these people. There has to be a punishment first before we can just be unified. People need to be held accountable before you can say everything’s OK. And that I think that’s true, whether someone’s five years old and they broke a window. And you can’t just say, hey, no, it’s OK. You have to actually show that, no, you actually have to fix the problem before you can say, hey, you’re never going to do it again. And a coup attempt on the United States of America from within, I mean, that was un — it is unbelievable. It’s scary. Scarier to me than 9/11. I mean, that day, I was talking to my children, I’m like, do you understand? These are not — this is not a foreign invader. These are our neighbors. These are people from just an hour flight away. I mean, it’s like this is — we’ve never ever seen anything like this. And that needs to be fixed, so it never happens again. But there’s real opportunity here, to, by the way, use that as an opportunity to bring together the country and say, yeah, you know what? I am Joe Biden, and I am the president. And this is how it is going to be fixed. And there’s your strength.

michael barbaro

Well, what if dignity, and modeling unity, and reaching across the aisle just isn’t enough and does not convince — and there’s very good reason to think it might not convince — tens of millions of Republicans who have been told Biden’s victory is illegitimate to see him as their president, and for there to be any healing? And is that something you fear?

brian keane

Well, by and large, people are of good nature. And I think we really need to remember that, that we really are. Now, when we’re called to our worst natures, all of us are prone to actually perk up to our worst nature, and myself included. So we just — if we can be called to our best nature, we’re there already. So that’s kind of number one. And what I really think is fascinating is just social media — Twitter particularly — is a real challenge for free speech, quite frankly. And we’ve seen as soon as Trump is now off Twitter, the fake news is dropping precipitously. And that is unbelievable to me, that in fact, the President of the United States has been the one to create this fake news. And so it’s like, OK, well, you know, I can’t call fire in a crowded movie theater. Maybe I shouldn’t be able to say a lie to a million people. And that then actually may help the republic survive.

michael barbaro

So you’re saying, just turning off that faucet is a step toward unity?

brian keane

Huge. I mean, it really is huge. Now, the problem is not fixed. I mean, but it is a huge step. And it’s like, oh, hang on, everybody. We really don’t hate each other that much. Because I just found out that you’re not as terrible a person as I had thought. I just — I’m being fed constant information about how terrible you are. And if I am not fed that constant information about how terrible you are, because you’re not really that terrible, then maybe we can actually have a real conversation. Not that we all have to get along and hold hands, but maybe you’re just not that terrible a person. Like, we don’t have to talk about, oh, my God, can you believe what he did? No, I loved what he did. Oh, he hates these people. Now, well, I guess I hate those people then, too. We might as well hate them. It’s like, no, we don’t have to do that.

michael barbaro

So just to summarize the Brian Keane theory of the case here is, turn off the flow of misinformation, inaugurate a president who represents dignity and a generally lower temperature in American politics, creates less drama all day, and you start to have a real shot at unity — Americans seeing themselves as people, not enemies, and the chance of actually getting big things done.

brian keane

And that’s what I think we’ve done. By putting Biden in place, we are restoring the first brick of dignity to the United States and to the world.

michael barbaro

I remember you telling me that when you were a young man in college and you first met Joe Biden — he came to speak at your political union — you had dreamed he would run for president. You’d go on a long political journey with him of skepticism and then affection, but you had that dream when you first met him. So now that he has done it, and he has won, are you scared? Are you grateful? Are you nervous? Are you excited? I mean, where is your mood, knowing the challenges that he’s going to face starting at noon on Wednesday?

brian keane

Well, that’s so — all right, so I met him in ‘89, 1989. And it’s now 2021. So this is working out just like we planned. [LAUGHTER]

michael barbaro

40 years later.

brian keane

Yup. Exactly. 31 — 30 some odd years later now, this is exactly like we planned. This is unbelievable to me. This is the moment meeting the man. I swear to God. And he ran in ‘88. He ran in 2007. This is the moment meeting the man. And I swear, if he had won the other times, it would not be this momentous. But today, this is a president that this country needs right now after Trump. We always say politics is a pendulum. This is that swinging pendulum. But it is not the pendulum of left and right. It is the pendulum of personality. And this is the personality that we need — a man who is going to restore dignity through his own actions, his own faith, and his own faith in the American people. To actually restore dignity to our country, and actually, quite frankly to each other. We’re going to be better people to each other. And we need to be. Because we are.

michael barbaro

Well, Brian, I want to thank you for making time for us again. We really appreciate it.

brian keane

Any time. And really, thank you for having these discussions. I think it’s really important, Michael. And I really think — I know there’s a lot of concern and angst across the country about — just about all of this, but I think we’re a step closer to really unbelievable days ahead for all of us.

jenny medina

I wonder — there are so many people who would expect you to feel this deep sense of relief and excitement. And I’m curious how close — how accurate that is, how close that comes to your feelings now.

erika andiola

Oh, you know —

jenny medina

I’m Jenny Medina, a politics reporter with The Times. I met Erika Andiola earlier this year. She’s an immigration policy activist in Arizona, who famously heckled Biden over the Obama administration’s immigration record during a debate in the primaries.

archived recording (joe biden)

I’m running because so many people —

archived recording (erika andiola)

You deported 3 million people!

jenny medina

And yet —

erika andiola

The day that Biden won the election — I know he has been winning it so many times, but the day that we knew that Biden was going to be the president, I did — I felt — I literally, physically, felt a sense of relief that we didn’t have to keep on figuring out what was going to be the next attack coming from the administration. And that felt really great in my body and my mind. The next day, it was just getting up to like, OK, what’s the next — what’s the next move? What’s the next fight? And understanding that for immigrants, for people who tend to be the targets for Republicans, if you hear political ads on TV from a Democrat and a Republican, a Republican is going to be campaigning around immigration. A Democrat’s not going to say anything, most of the time, about immigration. And so we’re not a priority for the most part. And so, I think for me it’s not just relief. I think it’s just now we feel a sense of urgency to start pressuring Biden again, and start the accountability to make sure that immigration is a priority for him and his administration.

jenny medina

What’s your biggest fear? What are you worried about under the Biden administration? Is it just being ignored, or is it more than that?

erika andiola

My biggest fear? Well, there’s a lot. But I think one of them is that a lot of progressives and Democrats have this understanding that under the governance of a Democrat, immigrants are OK. The same people who are rallying against kids in cages are now mainly thinking that everything’s going to be fine. And I just hope that we can create enough public awareness that people understand that we still have to push. And that I really think that we’re going to have a lot more progress, and that things are not going to be like under the Trump administration — but also that things are not going to be perfect. That we’re still going to have detention centers and people who are driving down the street and getting pulled over for a speeding ticket and getting deported. And the only way that that’s going to stop is if we as progressives, or people who care about immigrants, are willing to also hold accountable a Democratic president. I really hope that the public is there, and those folks who were rallying against kids in cages, that they’ll continue to rally with us. We’ll see how things evolve.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

kristin urquiza

My name is Kristin Urquiza. I’m 39 years old. I jumped for joy when I heard Kamala as the V.P. pick, and it made me so excited for the entire ticket. For me, seeing Vice President-elect Harris as the person who an old white man — no offense to Joe Biden — is turning to as his right-hand person, that to me shatters nearly as many glass and concrete ceilings as having somebody in that ultimate position.

speaker 1

I kept saying, “Listen to this — Madam Vice President-elect.” I said it to anybody who would listen. My husband, my kids. I said listen, “Madam Vice President-elect.” Doesn’t that have a great ring to it?

speaker 2

So often we as Black women are forced to wear a mask. The mask that we wear in public is a mask that may not allow you to see who we really are. And I think that we are muffled in many instances because of preconceived notions about Black women. And to see her in that office, I want her to be able to — maybe allow more Black women to feel confident in being able to take off that mask other places than just at home.

neena pathak

Good morning. How are you?

sharhonda bossier

I’m OK. How are you?

neena pathak

I’m hanging in. You know. [LAUGHTER]

sharhonda bossier

I do, I do, I do.

neena pathak

This is Neena Pathak. We first spoke to Sharhonda Bossier back in the summer. She’s a 36-year-old activist who had been organizing as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement for years. When we spoke, the movement was newly energized by the ongoing protests and the outpouring of support following the police killing of George Floyd. Then the national conversation shifted to the election and the pandemic. We wanted to see if the Biden administration felt like a new opportunity for the movement.

sharhonda bossier

You know, I think what’s interesting is that many of the activists I have gotten to know and spend time with definitely were hoping for a more progressive candidate to end up at the top of the Democratic ticket. And we ended up with Joe Biden. And so Biden, for many of us, is a compromise. He is a moderate by all accounts and all measures. But we definitely understood that it was critically important that he be elected — to reducing the harm experienced by so many of us, our families and other members of our community.

neena pathak

Sharonda and many of her fellow activists also have complicated feelings about Kamala Harris, namely because of her experience in law enforcement.

sharhonda bossier

A friend of mine made me a customized pair of Tims that say “Kamala” across the back. I don’t know if I will ever wear them, but I own them, right? Because they represent this moment. And they represent what she represents to so many of us, complicated or not.

neena pathak

But they also see the potential for greater opportunity with Harris than with Biden.

sharhonda bossier

I would much rather organize to push and sway and educate her. I think there’s real hope that she will move. I think she has demonstrated an openness to learning. And I also think that she, like many people of color who have worked in law enforcement, are trying in this particular moment to reconcile with and for themselves what that means.

neena pathak

Yeah. What do you want the administration’s first 100 days to look like?

sharhonda bossier

Ho. Listen, I have so many thoughts. I will be fully transparent, and I will say that I don’t think that Biden gave us much to vote for. I think Trump gave us a lot to vote against. I don’t think I’m saying anything new or original here when I say that we have watched Donald Trump provide legitimacy and political cover for violent extremists. So often the media will talk about, well there was a BLM protest and a counter protest. And you’re like, that’s not the same. And I think because so much of the public conversation has been framed as two sides with two different world views, the ideas of the far and fringe right have been made legitimate, because there is this sense that you can enact racial violence, and that the state has your back. And we have seen it, I think, especially in the last four years. It’s just created, for me anyway, this just overwhelming sense that people feel empowered to harm me, and don’t feel like there will be any real consequences if they do.

neena pathak

This belief is why Sharhonda worries about the safety of the incoming administration. It’s a worry that’s been with her essentially since the moment Biden was elected.

sharhonda bossier

I felt relief and tried very hard to sit with that for a moment. And then I felt almost an immediate sense of dread, chiefly because I was worried about what the backlash would look like from the right. And I was worried about the increased scrutiny to which Kamala would be subjected. And I think it’s probably a feeling that was most akin to the feeling I experienced when Obama was elected in ‘08. Just like, man, we just made history. And also, I’m so afraid for this person. And I feel that for Kamala every time I see her.

neena pathak

Can you talk a little bit about where that fear comes from?

sharhonda bossier

Yeah, I mean, the fear that I’m describing, this fear of ‘You’re a history maker, you’re a trailblazer, what are they going to do to you?’ really comes from the history of Black people in this country. Every time we have broken a barrier, every time we have tried to stand up for our humanity, every time we have tried to fully participate in this society, there are examples of very real and violent pushback from people who have believed that we should stay in our place, so to speak. And I think even if you listen to the ways that we talk about particularly women who are trailblazers, I think all of the messages we get around that are, if you dare try and be the first of anything, we are going to pick you apart. And I think that’s especially true for Black women and women of color.

neena pathak

What are you most worried about as you look ahead to the Biden administration?

sharhonda bossier

I am really, really nervous that we are going to attempt to appease the people who rioted at the Capitol. And that those of us who have experienced real harm and real violence, specifically over the past four years, will be asked in the name of reconciliation to not bring up that harm, and to not hold accountable the people who committed that harm against us.

neena pathak

And you’ve already spoken about some of your hopes for the administration, but I’m wondering, what are your hopes for yourself?

sharhonda bossier

Honestly, I’m hopeful that I find myself less angry on a regular and consistent basis.

I have over the past four years really, really just harbored this deep sense of anger and resentment at this country, at the people who voted for him, at the people who legitimized him. And it has gotten to the point where I listen to the news in the morning, and I’m like shouting back at my phone. And I really would like to not be yelling at my speaker in the morning while I’m having my coffee.

speaker

There’s a prayer that I pray, and I call it the nuclear prayer. And when you pray that prayer, it’s a really strong prayer. You don’t pray it unless you’re ready for the outcome. And the nuclear prayer is very simple. You pray to improve or to remove. I prayed that prayer before the election. I prayed it more than once before the election. I prayed that God improve, but I also prayed that he removed any one and any person who did not have man’s best interest at heart. And there’s an old spiritual that says, “He may not come when you want him, but he’s be there right on time.” “He” is God. And so with that being the case, it didn’t happen immediately, but it was there right on time.

I think that America needs a breath of fresh air. We are tired of being locked up. We are tired of being captive to a tyrant. We are tired of everything being about me, me, me, me, me, me, and not about us.

U.S., when you put it together is it “us.” Simple.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. Late Tuesday night, President Trump granted clemency to his former White House adviser Steve Bannon, who has been charged with defrauding Trump supporters in a fundraising scheme involving the border wall with Mexico. Bannon himself lobbied Trump for the pardon, one of many to friends and allies that are expected in the hours before Trump leaves office. And —

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty.

michael barbaro

On his final full day as Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell held President Trump directly responsible for the attack on the Capitol during a speech from the Senate floor.

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

michael barbaro

The remarks reinforced the view that McConnell is open to convicting Trump of inciting violence when the impeachment process moves from the House to the Senate. McConnell ended his speech by vowing a peaceful transfer of power later this morning.

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

We’ll have a safe and successful inaugural right here on the West front of the Capitol, the space that President Bush-41 called democracy’s front porch.

michael barbaro

The inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Today’s episode was produced by Neena Pathak, Alexandra Leigh Young, Sydney Harper, Austin Mitchell, Leslye Davis, Rachelle Bonja, Eric Krupke and Jessica Cheung. It was edited by M.J. Davis Lin, Paige Cowett and Lisa Tobin, and engineered by Chris Wood.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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