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Return of the competents

WASHINGTON — Thanksgiving is a mixed blessing for many Americans this year, as most are adjusting to smaller gatherings and lesser spreads, while more than 258,000 families will assemble without loved ones lost to covid-19.

As always in America, however, there are reasons to be thankful: The shouting is nearly over. Though Georgia still faces two runoff elections for the U.S. Senate in January — and will recount the presidential race for a third time per President Trump’s request — the baton will be passed, the republic will endure, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as scheduled on Jan. 20, 2021.

Relief.

This isn’t to say there won’t be disagreements going forward, especially between the progressives and moderates within the Democratic Party. Republicans will grumble. Trump will reinvent himself to advance his favorite brand. One can hardly wait to see where his new golf resorts sprout or what network he invents in his own image. His brat pack of annoying offspring can enjoy the spoils of their royalist pursuits.

Thank you all for leaving.

Even without a proper concession from Trump, Biden’s transition proceeds apace in un-alarming ways. Thus far, he has appointed six Cabinet members and filled a handful of important staff positions, including chief of staff and directors for legislative affairs and presidential personnel. All are experienced professionals who’ve established their bona fides in a variety of public and private roles.

While many news stories have focused on the diversity of the appointees, let’s consider them in terms of their qualifications. The Return of the Competents has a nice ring to it.

Antony Blinken, nominated for secretary of state, served in the Obama administration as deputy secretary of state and played a central role in dealing with Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the fight against the Islamic State. Former secretary of state John F. Kerry will head the climate change mission of the Biden administration. Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which Kerry helped negotiate as secretary of state, and from which Trump withdrew, saying it was designed to bankrupt the United States.

Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas, who was brought to the United States as an infant when Fidel Castro took power, understands better than most the power and meaning of asylum. As secretary of homeland security, he would be charged with undoing some of Trump’s more draconian immigration measures and restoring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which Mayorkas helped create during the Obama administration.

Janet Yellen, selected by Biden to be (the first female) treasury secretary, is familiar as the previous Federal Reserve chair. Her selection sent the Dow Jones industrial average soaring across the 30,000 mark for the first time.

Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines, is a former top CIA official and deputy national security adviser. She, too, would be a first, it must be said. Other nominations include Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career foreign service official, for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And Jake Sullivan, a government official and Yale law professor who favors a moderate approach to China, is Biden’s pick for national security adviser.

Perhaps the most important person on Biden’s slate is Cathy Russell, his pick for presidential personnel director. As the adage goes, “personnel is policy.” The woman in charge of staffing the federal government can make or break an administration, which partly explains the disaster of the Trump years. His personnel office was run by 20-something campaign holdovers who treated the office like a Beach Week party house. Their lack of experience was matched only by their lack of judgment; hundreds of vital positions went unfilled during the past four years. And too often jobs were handed out to family members.

Russell, by contrast, is the long-serving right hand to future-first lady Jill Biden. She’s married to Tom Donilon, who served as national security adviser in the Obama administration; both husband and wife have worked for Biden going back to the late 1980s. Most of the key Biden loyalists are centrists, as Democrats go. This is not a team of crazy lefties and never will be.

All of which is good news. It would appear that the Biden White House, rather than planning tectonic policy shifts, will be tightly focused on restoring a pre-Trump America — respected by the world, involved rather than isolationist, reinstating justice and compassion at home.

So, rest easy, America. Pray for the less fortunate, give to food banks and pardon a turkey — like the ones that departed the White House. ‘Tis the season.

kathleenparker@washpost.com.

©2020, The Washington Post

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