Joe Biden ascended to the Oval Office after a tumultuous post-election period. His inaugural address replaced American carnage with American hope, and Washington’s spectacular fireworks celebrated not the individual but our continuing democracy. What lies ahead?

President Biden’s call to “come together to carry all of us forward” was heard across the nation. Not all Americas will heed it. The far left and far right will promote differing policies he cannot pursue. But opportunities exist to move forward.

Biden’s cabinet and other key officials will provide much-needed experience and skill. Unlike during the previous administration, I expect many more appointees to stay on the job longer. When they leave—people eventually move on—none will call Biden inattentive, incompetent or morally unfit.

The upcoming Senate trial of the former president won’t diminish the divisions among the American people. Then again, it won’t increase them. Lines long have been drawn. Sanity prevailing, some Americans will cross them into the center, an area sufficiently expansive to encompass both conservatives and liberals of good will, first and foremost Americans. The anarchist, politically correct left and nativist white right won’t budge. Neither will they disappear, although many will go underground.

While the nation may endure a politico-cultural standoff into the future, the Republican party faces a major gut check now. If 17 or more Republicans join with 50 Democrats to convict the former president, they will rid the party of a formidable yet toxic candidate for the 2024 nomination. If they vote to acquit?

Presidential hopefuls courting the former president’s base will find themselves playing second-fiddle to that same former president. Why should the base turn away from the man they venerate? Politicians whose ambition outweighs their integrity will find themselves in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” predicament. Damned they should be.

Could the Republican party split? I’m not betting on that. But it will have to revamp its image to appeal to centrist voters, along with corporate and wealthy donors. Many of the latter have been embarrassed—if only for financial reasons—by the post-election spectacle.

Bret Stephens, the conservative New York Times columnist, wrote last Monday, “My hope is that once Republicans realize that Trump was both a moral and political disaster for them, they might recover their senses.” Might.

A few Senate Republicans, including Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), might create an informal, caucus akin to the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House. Working with Biden and centrist Democrats entails risk. Still, many Senate and House Republicans have suffered “bad optics” since the election. They may find voters and financial supporters skittish when they come up for reelection.

Certainly, the new administration’s first 100 days will offer change. Much will be related to the rapid undoing of previous executive orders. But Biden, who on Wednesday asked Americans to “show a little tolerance and humility,” will not request that legislators on both sides of the aisle abandon their beliefs but rather discard their rancor.

My fingers are crossed. Amanda Gorman, 22, delivered the inauguration poem and held out hope regarding “a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.” I pray that the vast majority of Americans will pay more than lip service to the nation’s motto, E pluribus unum.

Another short story of mine, “The Signature,” has been accepted by Flash Fiction Magazine and will appear online March 1. “Mirror, Mirror” will appear in the spring edition of the Avalon Literary Review.

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  1. Carolyn Power Perlstein on January 23, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Might is a very big word in this case; it can mean maybe or it can mean strength. You see, we can only hope for the best because “the hill we climb” is a steep one while we try with all our might to really listen to each other and to see each other as our fellow Americans. It’s going to be a tough struggle. But as Amanda Gorman says in her poem, “there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” And if more young people are like Ms. Gorman, our country is in good hands.

    • David Perlstein on January 23, 2021 at 10:21 am

      Well said, Carolyn.

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