When History Finally Makes Sense

by | November 9, 2020

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!”

Filed Under: Featured . Politics

About the Author

Alex Friedman is the co-founder of Jackson Hole Economics, LLC, a private research organization which provides commentary and analysis on economics, politics, the environment and finance, and develops actionable ideas for how sustainable growth can be achieved.

Friedman is a senior business leader with two decades of experience growing and transforming businesses in the financial and non-profit industry. He was the CEO of GAM Investments in London and chairman of the firm’s executive board. Previously, he was the Global Chief Investment Officer of UBS Wealth Management in Zurich, chairman of the UBS global investment committee, and a member of the executive board of the private bank.

Before moving to UBS, Alex Friedman served as the Chief Financial Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He was a member of the foundation’s management committee, oversaw strategic planning, and managed a range of the day-to-day operating functions of the world’s largest philanthropic organization. Friedman also created the foundation’s program-related investments group, the largest impact investing philanthropic fund in the world. He started his career in corporate finance at Lazard.

Friedman served as a White House Fellow in the Clinton administration and as an assistant to the Secretary of Defense. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Chairman of the Advisory Board of Project Syndicate, the non-profit opinion page that provides world-class commentary to over 500 newspapers globally. In addition, he is a board member of the American Alpine Club and the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, and has served on the boards of the Gates-Cambridge Trust, the Seattle Art Museum, and a number of other non-profits. 

Friedman is a regular contributor to several newspapers and thought leadership groups and has published numerous opinion editorials on topics including economics, finance, philanthropy, and politics in Project Syndicate, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Guardian, CNBC, The South China Morning Post, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and other news outlets. He is also the author of Babu’s Bindi, and The Big Thing, both children’s book.

An avid mountaineer and rock climber for 30 years, Friedman has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and led the first major climb to raise money for charity through an ascent of Mt. McKinley.

He holds a JD from Columbia Law School, where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, an MBA from Columbia Business School, and a BA from Princeton University.

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