The skies were already darkening over the United States in 1870 when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published the poem, "The Building of the Ship." “Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!” it reads. There were mutineers aboard. Barely a generation later they tried to wreck the Ship of State on the jagged rocks of slavery, secession, and civil war. Abraham Lincoln, who saved the Union, shared the vision of America as a light to the world. The Union's survival would assure, he said, that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

As a new president takes the helm this week, the Ship of State is again in peril on a restless sea. It survived another mutiny this month, led by a corrupt and incompetent captain attempting to defy the decision of the vessel's owners — the American people — to relieve him from command.

The voters could not have chosen a steadier hand to replace him than Joe Biden. Tempered by a lifetime of public service to be moderate in instinct, reasonable in his expectations, and, above all, faithful to the Constitution, he promises to devote himself to seeking bipartisan solutions for the nation's problems and to resuming its hallowed role as a light to the world.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris need and deserve the respect of every citizen if they are to accomplish those broad goals. Every citizen should want that regardless of how one might disagree on specific programs.

The nation is staggering under the human and economic toll of a pandemic that has killed more than 380,000 Americans, now at the rate of more than 4,000 a day. Racial tensions, exacerbated by the departing president to whom they were weapons in his arsenal of disunion, remain to be addressed and healed. Domestic terrorism, a greater threat now than that of foreign origin, must be a priority. Taxes need to be reformed to bring the deficits under control. The disastrous effects of climate change are as undeniable as the responsibility of every nation, especially ours, to mitigate them. Virtually all the federal regulations intended to protect human lives, health and the environment have been left in shreds.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Only two presidents have embarked on a comparable sea of troubles: Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Unlike FDR, Biden inherits a significant minority of citizens who believe the election was stolen for him and that his presidency will be illegitimate. They seem to have influence over a majority of the minority party in the House of Representatives. Many of those members are responsible for that, having aided the defeated president in propagating those lies. Several helped him incite the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

In reality, the 2020 election was one of the best-managed, fairest, and most closely watched elections ever. Republicans had significant down-ballot success in almost every state Biden won. Republican poll workers and election officials from every schoolhouse polling place to every state capital took part in counting the votes. Not one has suggested any evidence that anything irregular affected the outcome.

Why, then, are so many people convinced it was stolen, even to the point of threatening civil war? Why can't they see that the politician who wailed about being the victim of a "steal" was himself the one trying to steal the election?

It owes to the effectiveness of the technique known as the Big Lie. The bigger the lie, the more readily people will believe it. Its most notorious practitioner, the future fascist dictator of Germany, explained that although "the broad masses" will often tell little lies (or so he said)" it would "never come into their minds" to tell big ones. So they would not believe others could have "the impudence to distort the truth so infamously."

The departing president may actually believe his own big lies, but that is no excuse for any rational person to help propagate them. Everyone who takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, regardless of party, promises to defend the nation against domestic enemies as well as foreign ones. That extends to defending the Biden presidency against attempts to subvert it by denying its legitimacy.

Joe Biden will be the president for all of us. The Ship of State has only one captain at a time. Not everyone will agree with where he wants it to go, nor should everyone be expected to. All of us — Republican, Democrat or independent — are aboard the Ship of State. All of us are depending on him to steer it away from the shoals and rocks where it seemed to be headed.

— South Florida Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale