Trust in institutions is sorely lacking in America today. President Joe Biden’s speech Thursday evening helped in some ways, but sorely missed the mark in others.

What we missed was a true message of unity from a president who spoke eloquently on the subject at his inauguration less than a few months ago. National healing needs to be Biden’s primary focus and it would have gone a long way had he reached out to the 75 million-plus Americans who voted for someone else. Here’s what he should have said:

My fellow Americans:

I speak to you this evening from the White House. To both remember what we lost over the last year, but also to remind us of who we are.

To those who lost loved ones too soon, lost their livelihoods and their jobs, lost vital schooling and social interaction that humans crave and are entitled to as Americans, I want to say, I grieve along with all of you for the loss you’ve experienced.

Sadly, American history is filled with too many of these moments.  But when we look back at the misery of Valley Forge, the tragedy of Antietam or the desperation of the Great Depression, we know that we will get through this. I come here before you tonight to say that color is blossoming back into our life and that the full vibrancy of human experience is not far away. Life is coming back.

Many of us felt the cost of this pandemic deeper than other Americans.  The single mom who needed to work nights to pay her student loan debt but lost her job. The parents who watched their kids suffer with the frustration of distance-learning.  The owner of a small cafe whose life’s passion was lost.

And of course, the millions of you who could not hold your loved ones hands as they passed into the embrace of heaven. 

No stimulus package, no unemployment extension, no presidential address can give back what was taken from you.

And of course the trauma of this past year has stressed our cohesion as Americans. It is time for us to seek common ground.

Together, acting as a United States of America, we can reclaim our economy, our livelihoods and our way of life. Moving forward with responsible and purposeful actions: getting vaccinated for ourselves and fellow citizens; seeking understanding with one another more than seeking opportunities to argue.

Also, moving forward with humility.

In that spirit I want to thank former President Trump and his administration for the tremendous work they did to identify the novel coronavirus and develop multiple vaccines in under a year. Now that we have passed a historic $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and are on track to be giving well over 2½ million vaccinations a day, our country is set to explode with historic economic growth and a rebirth of everyday American life.

And I want to apologize for my language when I described the governor of a great state with an undeserved derogatory term. I dismissed his instinct to move his citizens, perhaps too aggressively, to a return to normalcy. To Gov. Abbott and all those millions of Americans who aspire for this pandemic to be behind us, I apologize for using the word “Neanderthal.”  

You are simply doing as every one of us is: trying your best to get to a better future.

You are just being an American.  And I ask all Americans, Republicans and Democrats, to demonstrate some humility and grace with our fellow citizens, especially those we disagree with politically.

But we also need to stop warring over science, especially since so much of what we have learned has come at such great cost.  Wearing masks will help us bridge our way to a vaccinated future, and they continue to be a low-tech solution until we have delivered these safe and effective vaccines to every American.

What do Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Michael Jordan, Dolly Parton, and Joe Biden all have in common? We are all vaccinated. So promise the grandparents who left us too soon and the grandchildren we want to see that when it’s your turn and you can get a vaccine, you’ll roll up your sleeve and take one for America.

I want to close tonight with the words from a president I had the pleasure of knowing and working with on a number of big, important issues. In his first inaugural address, when trying to rally our country out of its malaise, Ronald Reagan called on his fellow Americans to marshal “our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.

“And, after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans. God bless you, and thank you.”

Joe Grogan is a former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and is now a fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center.  

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