We Must Move On, We Can’t Move On

Behind the tweets: From COVID, to Russia and the insurrection, we must confront what's happened

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In his campaign, President Joe Biden promised to “build back better.” Once he took the oath of office on January 20, he and his team focused aggressively, strategically, on creating a vaccination and relief plan that would get shots in the arms of most Americans and give the country a real chance to move forward. He’s crafted an American Jobs Plan, a bold, expansive proposal that broadens the the notion of what infrastructure includes to maximize its positive impact. This week his Attorney General talked about doubling the number of lawyers in Justice focused on voting rights and a multi-layered plan to confront white supremacist-fueled domestic terrorism. In Europe this week, Biden also showcased the necessary work of restoring America’s relationship with its allies and its commitment to NATO.

These are good things. He’s provided a cleansing model of what good governance, driven by strategic thinking and planning, looks like. He’s demonstrated that the purpose of the presidency is not about self-service and self-enrichment, corruption and crime, but to actually try and make life better for people. He’s also reminded us that leadership can be optimistic, hopeful, possessed of a sense of humor, human.

But as history has shown us over and over, the past cannot be ignored. In the powerful and necessary desire to move forward, we can’t forget what damage has been done and the need to both confront it and repair it so it doesn’t reoccur. Exhibit A: We are still in the throes of our racist past, dating back to 1619, dating back to slavery and the Civil War, dating back to Reconstruction and its failure to embrace America’s people and the expectations of democracy. That past has remained prologue for a country unable to move forward because of its unwillingness to confront how we got here.

Over 600,000 Americans are dead because of COVID-19. How many of those lives could have been saved if we had a president who cared about saving lives—who understood that his duty was to do everything he could to create and execute a national policy that would minimize the death and destruction? Recognizing the progress the Biden administration has made, do we simply chalk all that up to misfortune and move on? Or should Trump and his accomplices, including his vice president, be investigated and held accountable for willful negligence or worse?

For over four years, we’ve listened to Trump praise Vladimir Putin and attack American intelligence, American allies and American efforts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. We witnessed his silence as news broke that Russia was likely paying bounties for American soldiers in Afghanistan. We saw his adoring gaze at the Kremlin boss nearly every time they met—and his beaten countenance after they privately met during his public betrayal in Helsinki.

In Geneva on Wednesday, President Biden chose to engage Putin with “stubborn optimism” to address the relationship with, as Biden put it, an “optimistic face,” even while detailing a litany of grievances that includes cyber attacks, Ukraine and other border aggression, the brutal treatment of Alexei Navalny and other political opponents, and more. “The country has put a different face on where we’ve been and where we’re going — and I feel good about it,” Biden said before boarding the plane back to Washington.

But as productive as a skeptical, but respectful relationship with this adversary sounds, the anti-democratic drive of Putin and the dangerously successful efforts to sow conflict between Americans and exploit a White House occupant who prioritized Russian interests remains a critical obstacle to moving forward. This may have more to do with Trump than Putin, but it’s the responsibility of the Biden administration to fully probe and prosecute how and why Trump abandoned American interests—especially as Republicans mouth Russian talking points and continue their march toward autocracy.

Which brings us to the January 6 insurrection, perhaps the most vivid example of why the country cannot move on. As the FBI and the Department of Justice investigate and prosecute those who breached the Capitol, and as the DOJ expands plans to confront domestic terrorism, elected Republicans are minimizing the reality of that deadly day and Republican-led states have passed draconian laws to suppress voting and take power.

If the organizers, the funders and the inciters of January 6 are not held accountable, then we can expect that they will hear the message loud and clear: The Democrats, President Biden and the Biden Administration are not willing to confront them. They have a green light to keep going.

All the good work underway, all the efforts to move forward and “build back better,” will be for naught if our democratic experiment ends because those in charge chose to just move on.

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