Brooke: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Bob Garfield is away this week. I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week, we reached the 100th day of the Biden presidency, marking the occasion his first address to a joint session of Congress.
President Joe Biden: Throughout our history, presidents have come to this chamber to speak to Congress, to the nation and to the world, to declare war, to celebrate peace, to announce new plans and possibilities.
Brooke: This is what Joe Biden ran on, big positive, mostly progressive aspirations, but he also ran on something more visceral, moral indignation.
President Joe Biden: Donald Trump has corrupted the soul of this country. Donald Trump has pummeled the middle class. Donald Trump has embraced dictators and poked his thumb in the eye of our allies. Donald Trump is a disaster, and he knows it, and he knows I'm going to be able to point it out.
Brooke: Point it out and root it out, it's a simple directive hard to implement. The great undoing of any predecessor's policies takes time, and while the Trump White House was not notable for legislation, it did radically change what we expect from its occupant. Under Trump, news hungry media outlets could always be assured of a free lunch. Biden was excoriated when, like Trump, he went an unusually long time without a formal press conference, mostly because unlike Trump, we didn't get to wake up to a steaming bowl of whatever grievance he'd been nursing at 4:00 in the morning.
Speaker 3: We do not read every one of the President's tweets out loud. However, this morning he is writing about things that get to the breaking news of the day, which is his mood and his--
Brooke: What's notable about Biden's calls for unity, however naive they may seem, is that they come with power. Early in his term, New York Times White House correspondent, Michael de Shear, tabulated a lengthy list of words the Biden White House changed or changed back. Illegal alien was replaced by non citizen, or the phrase undocumented immigrant. References to tribal people were spelled with a capital T. Climate change came back, as did mentions of the LGBTQ community, pronouns, diversity, science based evidence, even the Spanish language version of the White House website. Policies and pros shape the national discussion. This administration, like the last, is tapping into both to change how we talk about America and Americans.
Speaker 4: President Biden tweeted, "Transgender rights are human rights that I would--
Speaker 5: To create an eight year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the US.
Brooke: The Biden dream is inclusion, and he used his speech Wednesday to back in the opposition, together was his constant refrain.
President Joe Biden: Together, we passed the American rescue plan, one most consequential rescue packages in American history. The very moment our adversaries were certain, we pull apart and fail. We came together, we united.
Brooke: Togetherness, unity, but in the current political context, what do they even mean? When the other party is steadfastly opposed to whatever that is.
Speaker 6: This is not a unity agenda, this is a radical agenda.
Speaker 7: The [unintelligible 00:03:29] of the unity that President Biden had pledged himself to in his inauguration address.
Brooke: On Monday, The Washington Post back checker column released its tally of the misleading claims Biden's made so far. A graphic shows a little Pinocchio with a nose that stretches to the number 67. Further down, a second Pinocchio, his nose lengthened to 511, the number of misleading claims Trump had uttered by this time in his first 100 days. Is 67 bad, average? We gave Trump's lies, hyperbole and divisiveness bad marks for so long, our red pencils have frozen over Biden's words, unable to recall what would merit an A, or should we give extra credit for his projected generosity of spirit?
Speaker 8: It shows you how difficult it is to attack Biden personally, which Donald Trump in trouble doing.
Speaker 9: Part of what I loved about what Biden did was, you take an issue, every issue, he would come back and he would make it human.
Brooke: Maybe human is the real Byward of the Biden presidency, an adjective that denotes not only empathy, but also the weakness of our species, the insecurity, the puffery and shame. Remember shame lately out of style, but a desire to connect, that's fundamentally human to, and sensitivity to the words we apply to our fellow humans is a big part of that, of our diverse and expansive Tribe, with a capital T. Even, especially the people we don't see. That's up next.
Coming up, where inmate is a dirty word. This is On the Media.
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