In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation of 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt opined that “No people on earth have such abundant cause for Thanksgiving as we have.”
We can bet it’s a sentiment not often heard in the United States this weekend. Given the pandemic’s wretched toll and other afflictions the country has suffered, it’s one of the saddest and – given the restrictions on get-togethers – loneliest Thanksgivings ever.
Amid the gloom, president-elect Joe Biden tried to sound a note of optimism in his Thanksgiving address. He spoke of “An America that holds fast to the conviction that out of pain comes possibility, out of frustration comes progress and out of division unity. You all know in our finest hours that’s who we’ve always been and that’s what we shall be again.”
This “grim season of division and demonization,” he went on to predict “will give way to a year of light and unity.”
Was he stirring false hope, getting carried away with rosy rhetoric as leaders are often wont to do on big occasions?
Maybe. But more likely, given what has transpired in recent weeks, Mr. Biden was making a rational assessment.
Two things had to happen for the U.S. to begin a recovery. Two demons had to be exorcised. Donald Trump had to be defeated. The country couldn’t bear four more years of having its standards pillaged. Fortunately his plague is being removed, the vaccine being the vote of the people.
The other demon, the coronavirus, while raging now worse than ever, sees its days numbered as well. Through the early months of 2021, the several vaccines coming on market hold the promise of repelling it.
With these developments, the sense of relief and liberation Americans will feel will be like that following a great victory in a devastating war. An economy whose engine has been stalled for a year will move into high gear. A population strait-jacketed for so long will be in a mood to let loose, to enjoy life, to spend, spend, spend.
The upshot could see a remarkable turnaround, with America shifting from one of its worst years to one of its best.
Harbingers of good times are not hard to find. The two major stock market indexes posted all-time records this week as investors reacted joyously to the advent of Mr. Biden and the COVID-19 vaccines. Economic growth projections for 2021 are strong. Mr. Biden has instilled confidence with his choice of Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary. Congress is likely soon to pass the multi-trillion dollar stimulus package that has been tied up by partisan warfare.
While there’s a good chance the Republicans will maintain control of the Senate, it doesn’t necessarily mean legislative gridlock. Mr. Biden has decades of experience forging deals with the other party. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell won’t get away with obstructionism on everything.
Mr. Biden’s shortcomings as leader can be overcompensated by his strengths. At this juncture, the country needs an experienced steady hand at the wheel. For that role he is well-suited.
The past year has been one of racial upheaval, with the unrest stoked in part by Donald Trump’s race-baiting. Mr. Biden has broad support in the Black community. The people of colour he is placing in key positions in his administration will have a calming impact on the social climate.
The promise is for more peace and stability at home and a more secure relationship with allies abroad. Mr. Biden will follow on Mr. Trump’s work on drawing down America’s involvement in endless wars, a policy favoured by the people.
Mr. Trump still maintains a huge level of support and no doubt will try and foment opposition and division. The likelihood though is that he will find Americans wanting to turn the page. An indication has been the relative calm of his rabid supporters since the election. Despite his daily clamouring about balloting fraud and injustices, they did not take to the streets in large numbers to try and have the verdict overturned.
The Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Mr. Trump and his reactionaries will find themselves increasingly in the minority.
It being an annus horribilis, Mr. Biden prompted some derisive reaction with his Thanksgiving speech assertion that “I have never been more optimistic about the future of America than I am right now.”
But the doubters may be in for a surprise.
It was a century ago that the country was hit by the ghastly Spanish flu. It claimed 675,000 American lives. The government of the day was dysfunctional, President Woodrow Wilson having been disabled by strokes. Taking over was President Warren Harding, who was elected on a platform of restoring what he called “normalcy.”
He was a weak scandal-plagued chief executive. But beginning with his presidency, much more than normalcy was restored. What followed was the great prosperity of the Roaring Twenties.
The parallels are hardly exact. The differences between now and then are many. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a century after that time, the United States will enjoy another Roaring Twenties decade.
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