Joe Biden's defeat of Donald Trump means hope and history rhyme once more – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

On the night that Joe Biden was declared winner of the US presidential election, Irish state broadcaster RTE aired a montage of pictures from his career.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 7:00 am
US flags have been placed on the National Mall, with the US Capitol behind them, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (Picture: Alex Brandon/AP)

Against that backdrop they played audio of the President-elect reciting The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney:

“History says: Don't hope on this side of the grave / But then, once in a lifetime / The longed-for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme,” he said, as images of his life gave way to those of the violence that has ripped through American streets and towns this final year of the Trump presidency.

The juxtaposition of beautiful poetry and mob brutality was stark. Today will see the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris and, for the first time in four years, hope and history will rhyme once again in America. And what a four years it’s been.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once said that politicians “campaign in poetry but govern in prose”.

You couldn’t accuse Donald Trump of either. The Orange One rose to power on the back of a raft of staccato, three-word phrases: “Build a wall!”, “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!” They were steeped in misogyny and racism and they worked. They ushered in a new and dark era for America and for our world.

While you could never have described Trump’s campaign as poetry, it’s also a stretch to say that he governed in prose. His agenda and public policy announcements were typed out in block capitals over 280 characters of invective on Twitter. Senior cabinet members would learn of their sackings on social media and he would retweet the ravings of conspiracy theorists with abandon. He moved the ‘Overton window’ – the frame of socially acceptable public debate – so much, it may take years to pull it back.

It’s hard to sum up the nightmare we’ve all lived through with Trump in the White House. Within days of entering the oval office, Trump had brought in his ‘Muslim ban’. He also tried to dismantled the healthcare system built by his predecessor.

He went on to separate parents from their children on arrival at the US border with Mexico and kept those children in cages, subject to both neglect and abuse. He colluded with despots and with foreign enemies. He embraced white supremacists and met the pandemic threat with arrogance and complacency until it was far, far too late.

Covid was the end of Trump. In it he found an adversary impervious to insult or braggadocio and one that would lay waste to the lives of nearly half a million US citizens and the economy he claimed to have restored.

His defeat was played out with agonising slowness on 24-hour news channels and the dawning reality of his demise drew out a final spasm of petulance that would lead to insurrection and his second impeachment.

Biden and Harris will allow Americans and the world to breathe again. Reason and decency will walk the corridors of the White House again. In many ways, their administration already offers a cure to the modern-day Troy that America represents.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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