Blind to age and deaf to the age we live in, Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke like a politician of a previous age. He used allusions and direct quotations to perform an illusion. But his performance was too old, his movements too obvious, his hands—his rhetorical sleight of hand—too overt to succeed.
Biden’s inaugural performance failed because the performer failed to see that an illusion must be believable, that to play the part one must look the part, that the part is historic, not a historical reenactment. The performance failed because it was an act of procedure with bad acting; it was a repetition of words read to Mr. Biden, followed by an even worse speech by Biden.
Facts made the performance unbearable, because reality—the plain, visible reality of a multiracial assembly of former presidents and first ladies, of Barack and Michelle Obama alongside Bill and Hillary Clinton and George W. and Laura Bush—made the rhetoric unbelievable.
The fact that Kamala Harris is not only our first female vice president but also the first Democratic vice president who is a person of color, the fact that her charge of “systemic racism” would make it impossible for her to discharge the duties of her office because she would not be eligible to vote or serve in public office if it were true, the fact that systemic racism would require the interposition and nullification of the 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution: these facts do not matter.
What matters to the faithful is the inerrancy of scripture, not contradictions in a bible with no text. How else to explain faith in a “living Constitution” and belief in the existence of eternal injustice toward nonwhites? How else to explain faith in the mastery of certain words and belief in the freedom to choose what a word means? How else to explain trespass as treason and unlawful entry in the Capitol as a capital offense?
What matters is power.
Biden has the power to turn the lyricism of a dream into a long national nightmare of violence and hate, thereby reducing the words of America’s only King to a footnote in the pages of history. He has the power to call the jangling discords of our nation a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, so long as he likes how the noise sounds.
The noise will continue—the noise will silence the truth—unless we voice our opposition without raising our voices. We do not have to censor our opponents to speak the truth, but we must oppose those who want to censor or cancel us.
We do not have to outshout our opponents to win, but we must nonetheless defeat them.
We must win by the soundness of our arguments, so judges will listen to us and the public will understand us.
About those who want to judge us, about those who refuse to judge not, about those who are blind to hypocrisy but eager to remove the blindfold of impartiality and break the sword of justice; about an administration of one point of view, the arrogant will never acquit us.
We shall overcome.