In the United States, a Joe is an everyman. Someone we can all relate to. Someone who could be all of us. GI Joe, as we have termed the millions who have served their country.
Last weekend, many of us placed our hopes in a Joe.
He is not young and dashing. He does not have a silver tongue. He has not promised that he can magically make things better.
Joe Biden, the President-Elect of the United States of America, is just a man. And yet, in the deep wisdom found in democracy, he may be exactly the man this country needs at this time.
History moves in ways far beyond our understanding. Joe Biden might have been President back in 1988, when he first ran. But he dropped out. Same in 2008. If his son, Beau Biden, had not tragically died in 2015, perhaps his father would have run again in 2016. He might have won. If he had, in what moment would he have ascended to the highest office in the land? He would have followed eight years of President Obama, who was young and dashing, with a silver tongue. How would a hypothetical President Biden have been received by his country, and the world, just four years ago?
But Joe Biden did not run in 2016. He was too heartbroken. He prepared to fade into the background of public life. Then the events of Charlottesville, in 2017, caused him to stand up and go once more ‘unto the breach,’ as Shakespeare put it. For the soul of his nation, he said.
Joe Biden has finally earned the oval office. On his third try. And this time, he has met the moment perfectly.
The United States is a land riven by division and anger. The fissures are deep, and Joe Biden’s election will not bridge them on its own. But it is a start. With a man many of us can relate to.
Soon, Joe Biden’s address will be on Pennsylvania Avenue. For a boy who grew up in Pennsylvania, and a man who finally made it to the White House almost fifty years after entering national politics thanks to the voters of that state, it is a fitting new home.
One man, full of limitations, seared by terrible personal tragedy, who stood up again and again. A man who did not let the trials of life take away his hope, his optimism. A man who treats all with equal respect, and lets his integrity steer his moral compass through even the darkest times.
The kind of everyman we aspire to be in our better moments.
In moments of historical significance, it sometimes helps to call on timeless text that has echoed through the centuries. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If,’ fits our moment perfectly. It could just as well be called ‘Joe.’
The words are worth pausing on, anew:
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”