Editor’s Note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
It was especially refreshing to see President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris use their CNN interview with Jake Tapper on Thursday to make clear that leading America is, first and always, a complex effort requiring the cooperation and good will of millions.
Coming less than a day after a bizarre, unhinged video rant by President Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris conversation made clear why voters kicked Trump out of the White House.
Trump spouted falsehoods and tried to advance his own interests by demanding that somebody – courts, state legislatures, maybe even Santa Claus – somehow reverse the outcome of the election he lost last month. Biden and Harris, by contrast, talked about the national interest and urged the public to support their plans for the future.
To battle the coronavirus pandemic, Biden said he will issue a mandate for all Americans to wear masks for a little more than 3 months – long enough to help halt and reverse the surging infection numbers. “Just 100 days to mask, not forever,” he told Tapper. “100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction.”
That nuanced call to arms is a 180-degree reversal from Trump’s steadfast refusal to order the use of masks and his plea to the public back in October, shortly after he himself had contracted the virus: “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it.”
We’ve had a year of divisive bombast and boasting with Trump claiming the virus would vanish; that he accepted no responsibility for the failed national response; and finally threw up his hands at the over 276,000 deaths from the virus, saying “it is what it is.”
In 2016, Trump memorably listed national challenges during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and thundered: “I alone can fix it.” Biden and Harris, by contrast, are consistently talking about sharing responsibility with other actors – Congress, Republicans, governors, and allied nations overseas.
On the hot-button question of when and whether to keep public schools open, Biden estimated that “we can safely open those elementary schools” – but at an estimated price tag of $100 billion, which he called on Congress to supply. Harris predicted that parents and teachers’ unions would find common ground on getting the schools open safely: “There is wide consensus about the priority and the goal,” she told Tapper.
The collegial style extends to relationships within the nascent administration. “Our Justice Department is going to operate independently,” Biden said. “I’m not gonna be telling them to prosecute A, B or C.” Another sharp contrast with Trump, who fired his first attorney general and routinely urged his second to go after Trump’s political opponents.
Even the relationship between Biden and Harris appears to be based on conversation and consensus rather than firm hierarchy, despite the fact that the two exchanged tough words on the campaign trail during the Democratic primaries. “There’s not a single decision I’ve made that I haven’t discussed it with Kamala first,” Biden told Tapper. “I don’t hold grudges.”
On the need to rev up the faltering economy, Harris pointed to a recent Zoom meeting at which the incoming administration brought together labor leaders and corporate CEOs. “There’s a consensus on what needs to be done” to get Americans back to work, she said.
There’s that word again: consensus.
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When people say that elections have consequences, it usually expresses a kind of rueful resignation at bad decisions being made. In this case, voters chose to replace the singular, disruptive ego-driven approach of Trump with an administration that understands that the most potent power of an American president is his ability to convene, coax and cajole our vast nation into moving forward together.
“You’re not gonna see me making policy by tweets,” Biden told Tapper. That’s a consequence we can all welcome.