“Well, I know it’s a big crowd, and I know we’ve got good friends running,” Emily told him, “but our best hope for defeating Trump is Joe Biden.”
Photos: The inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
As they mingled at Biden’s inauguration yesterday, Democrats and Republicans alike told me they were optimistic. But they also had a very real sense that this presidency might be the last chance for the leaders of Biden’s generation to save the republic—that the country’s future now rests in the hands of a generation that won’t be around to see the outcomes of its decisions.
Biden is old. He’s the oldest president ever. He’s also two years younger than Clyburn. He’s two years younger than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Chuck Schumer, who took over as Senate majority leader yesterday, is a baby by contrast, at 70. But Clyburn says Biden and the others were meant for this moment: “Thomas Paine wrote back in 1776, when the country was trying to give birth to itself, ‘The times have found us.’ I think the times found Joe. People say it wasn’t his time before, but maybe the time wasn’t for him before.” The pairing of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who’s 20 years younger, Clyburn told me, is “a little bit biblical.” Scripture, he explained, “talks about the elders being called because of their knowledge; the youngsters, because they’ve got strength. And so, knowledge and strength are the things we need to move this democracy forward.”
Read: What it was like to watch Trump leave
The next generation isn’t sitting around waiting, though younger Democrats are ready to defer to Biden for now. Before the inauguration ceremony, I caught up with Eric Swalwell, a California congressman who’s half Clyburn’s age, and who briefly ran for president in 2019 with buttons that read Pass the Torch. The gag poked fun at Biden, who had called for the generation before him to hand over power in a 1986 speech, when Swalwell was in kindergarten. Most people remember the first Democratic primary debate for Harris’s run-in with Biden, but a few minutes before that, Swalwell took a swing of his own: “If we are going to solve the issue, pass the torch. If we are going to solve climate chaos, pass the torch. If we want to end gun violence and solve student debt, pass the torch.” Biden laughed. “I’m holding on to that torch,” he said then.
Yesterday morning, looking up at the bunting and the presidential seal in front of where Biden was about to appear, Swalwell told me he was ready to acknowledge that his pitch hadn’t been what the country needed. “I ran making the generational case, but I get why the country right now feels like it [needs] experience and seasoning,” he said. Swalwell wants intense and speedy action out of the White House and Congress to restore Americans’ faith in government. “I don’t think we’ve got any more lives left,” he told me. “People need to see [that] government is working.”