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  • katherine halligan

Out With The Old

So much has transpired since I last wrote that I am slightly at a loss as to where to begin. So, for the nonce, I shall just say: out with the old… and in with the new!

Or should I say, out with the old… and in with the older?

I am not being ageist here: Joe Biden is of precisely the same vintage as my father, and reminds me of him in many ways, all good: the grin, the charm, the quaint turns of phrase, the open-mindedness, the sense of fair play. The sunglasses. And my dad, were he so inclined, would also be perfectly capable of running the country in his late 70s. His father lived until 92 and was fairly spry until 90; my other grandfather lived until 94, and only slowed down right at the very end. He played golf, traveled, and danced — extremely well, I might add — with all the ladies in attendance at his 90th birthday celebration. I come from a long, healthy line of people who have kept (nearly) all of their faculties — and especially their senses of humor — well into their advancing years, so I can personally attest to the fact that good things often come in old packages.

All of these lovely humans happen(ed) to be both male and white, however, so much of the new which I am currently celebrating is, of course, Kamala — otherwise known as Madam Vice President (and even typing that still makes me grin and still makes me choke up). She was my first pick for president in the early primaries; as a fellow Californian, of course I was proud of our junior senator, but I also liked her lifelong dedication to public service, her numerous concrete actions towards making the world a better place for more than just a privileged few, her deep-seated sense of justice and fairness, her feistiness, her warmth. She seemed like someone I would be equally happy to have in my own house, as well as in the White House.

But for various reasons her campaign foundered (or else she saw the prudence in withdrawing early, with her eyes on another prize), and so I voted for my second choice, a certain woman with a plan for everything. Our new Commander-in-Chief was, in fact, my tenth choice in that very crowded field. But as the others fell away, I began to see that Biden was indeed exactly the man for this moment.

For in the unprecedented chaos, anger and uncertainty of our times — much of which was of course created by the Inciter-in-Chief who'd been at the helm for four tumultuous years — we needed a steady hand at the tiller, a seasoned sailor who knew how to weather a storm, to muster his crew, to change tack when needed, and who would have the courage to go down with that ship if needed. I began to understand that with Captain Joe at the helm we could all begin to breathe a sigh of relief — even if our huge ocean liner, beset with problems, would take a long time to turn around.

Not so long ago, that ocean liner, with its fifty state-rooms, became one giant COVID-infested cruise ship. Some of its passengers were (and still are) locked in their state-rooms for their own safety, as they heeded the warning of the more careful and caring officers; other passengers, instead, roamed freely about the decks enjoying their leisure as if nothing untoward were happening, playing shuffleboard while the storm raged and helping themselves to the all-you-can-eat buffet, gorging themselves until they were bloated with their greed, goaded by some of the officers. And some of those officers, in turn, made sure to help themselves first, before looking after their passengers, following the example of their captain.

For that captain ensured that he had the finest table while many of his passengers went hungry. He did unspeakable things to some of the female entertainers. He cancelled the children’s entertainment so that his most loyal officers could play instead, feasting, drinking, and gambling with the passengers’ lives. And when illness stalked the ship, instead of allowing the ship’s doctor to speak to the passengers, to advise them and treat them, he threw the sickest and weakest passengers overboard into the shark-infested waters, and let them drown. All the while, he lied to the rest of the passengers and crew, and told them nothing was happening.

Meanwhile, the illness spread and the storm grew. When half the crew and more than half his passengers finally gathered to send out a mayday signal and to remove him from his post, his loyal minions continued to spread his lies while more lives were lost. Then, as word spread that a new captain was coming on board in just a few days, to right the ship and return it safely to port, the old captain turned to his passengers and told them to raid the officers’ deck, to fight for him — and they did. That ship mutinied against itself, against one another, and for a brief moment all seemed lost. Finally — too late — some of his officers stood up to his tyranny by jumping overboard, like rats from a sinking ship. But none of this could stop the new captain coming to take command.

Many times during this pandemic I have heard people say, “We’re all in the same boat,” but the best reply to that is: “Same storm, different boats.” Because Captain Joe fundamentally understands that, because he knows he has to guide not just one huge, broken ocean liner but a whole flotilla of leaky row boats alongside it, we all stand a better chance of surviving this storm; we all stand a better chance of meeting on the far shore so we can start to repair that flotilla together, and bring safely everyone on board.

And so, as our new captain began to right our foundering ship within his very first hours in office, his calm, steady presence made me feel joyously justified in my late-but-now-unwavering loyalty to our new leader. For once his campaign gained momentum — slow to start like a ship heading from harbour out to a rough sea, yet steady as it went — I put my money where my mouth had not yet been, donating hundreds of dollars to what I had finally suddenly realised was our best hope, hanging literature on hundreds of doorknobs, writing hundreds of postcards until my hand cramped, making hundreds of phone calls in English and Spanish, and generally working my big blue tail off on his behalf.

Because as much as I love and believe in his first mate, as much as I believe that she has been and will be fundamental to our weathering this storm together, she is not as seasoned a sailor, yet. We need this captain and commander for this moment. And so although I joke about his age, it is also part of his saving grace: he knows how this works, he has a loyal and able crew, he knows the star charts like the back of his hand, he can always find true north, and he understands — in a way it seems almost no one else does — how to get everyone to row in more or less the same direction. Whether he is actually able to do this in the fraught and perhaps disastrously deeply divided country we inhabit — those choppy seas on which we sail — remains to be seen. But he is also deeply pragmatic, and he learned from his earlier turn in her deck shoes (well, actually her Chuck Taylors) that sometimes bipartisanship is a legislation-dooming myth; sometimes you just have to trim your sails, follow that compass bearing, and keep pointing your bow at the horizon.

So when I say “in with the older,” I am not referring merely to age, but also to experience, and perhaps more importantly to an older, deeper set of values that seem to have been forgotten of late.

Decency. Respect. Fairness.


Can it be only fifteen days ago that we bid farewell to the old captain’s regime — for it was indeed the reign of a crazed king — and welcomed the new-but-also-older, as we celebrated America coming back to its true self? Can it be only fifteen days since I wept copious tears of joy, multiple times throughout the day? Fifteen days since I felt completely uplifted at the singing of our national anthem (and the fabulousness of that red skirt), rather than feeling torn and sad and like I should take a knee? Fifteen days since I worried about whether Tom Hanks would catch pneumonia without a coat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and marvelled at how Jon Bon Jovi’s dentures did nothing to detract from his enduring appeal? Fifteen days since I cried with happiness (more tears) hearing “Amazing Grace”, while feeling the former grace of our democracy alive and well once more? Sixteen days since I was able to mourn — at last — in a shared, national way for the over-400,000 whom we have lost to the pandemic, in a ceremony replete with a simple, sober beauty befitting the magnitude of our tragic loss?

It’s been — as Sinead O’Connor would put it — several hours and fifteen days… and yet it feels like a lifetime. In a good way.

Fifteen days since it was out with the Dictator-in-Chief, and in with a presidential President.

Out with a misogynist criminal, in with a gentleman (who is also a gentle man).

Out with a certain white-haired lapdog whose only redeeming moment was to assume leadership for those terrible hours on January 6, when a president had turned on his own people, on his own government, on his own country, when the former Vice President finally stepped in to call the help that was needed to stem the tide of bloodshed, but whose wilfully blind obedience until that day came at the highest of costs.

In with a dynamo who is showing our daughters that there is nowhere they cannot go, who is the first but who will not be the last, who has my vote for whatever she wants to do because she has shown us who we can be. (Excuse me while I do a little dance of joy. Again.)

Out with the vain, shallow trophy wife. In with the first First Woman (because “Lady” is old, in a not-so-good way) to hold a PhD, who worked hard both as an educator and an advocate for change during her husband’s eight-year stint in the copilot seat, who has the intelligence and compassion not seen in her office since Michelle Obama walked out its door.

Out with the sour-faced former Secretary of Transportation (in fact my only complaint about Inauguration Day was that the camera angle far too often featured Elaine Chao in the background; we don’t know why) and in with the new, a talented young veteran who has places to go (how appropriate is that transport post?) and now has the means to do it. (And while we’re at it, out with her Machiavellian enabler of a husband, that Emperor Palpatine who too often pulled the strings, Rasputin-like, behind the scenes, bearing no small part of the blame for the Republican Party’s precipitous slide to the far right… and in with Mr Buttigieg’s husband instead, please.)

Out with the hoards of deceitful, treacherous enablers. In with Amanda Gorman and a Second Gentle Man.

Out with walls and cages, in with bridges.

Out with anger, in with kindness.

Out with lunacy, in with sanity.

Out with the lies, in with the truth.

Out with the old symbols of all that is broken and wrong — a gallows with a noose on the grounds of the Capitol, a Confederate flag flying in its halls — and in with a renewed sense of our former national purpose and unity. For that star-spangled banner does yet wave, in spite of everything: over our Capitol building, and over the White House, where a very good man now lives.

So out with the evil, in with the good.

Out with the hatred, in with the love.

Out with despair, in with hope and light.

For the White House is now a lighthouse, a beacon of hope in the darkness.

And there’s a safe harbour ahead.

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