Philosophy in Focus: Time to celebrate

Philosophy in Focus Graphic

As I write this, I can hear a muffled version of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” (1977) drifting in through my open window. It certainly feels true; this weekend’s announcement of Joe Biden as the 46th president-elect of the United States lifted a very heavy weight off the collective shoulders of this country. 

Before the song had even ended, I started seeing commentary on social media and major news networks focusing on the challenges the incoming administration will face, so I started to question the value of such a celebration. 

In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Adam Smith posits that there is a significant difference “between those qualities and actions which deserve to be admired and celebrated, and those which simply deserve to be approved of.”

I have a tough time disagreeing with him. I certainly understand the frustration some feel when the election of our first female vice president-elect is described as something ‘remarkable’ or ‘miraculous.’ From a slightly shifted perspective, it is easy to say that this is just something that should be normal by now. Around half of the U.S. population is female, yet no woman has ever occupied the Oval Office. Kamala Harris is just a few steps away from it, though they are very difficult steps to take. 

I feel the frustration of what may be a Pyrrhic victory. Because of this, Harris’ new position would fall into Smith’s category of things to be approved of, not celebrated. The election of a president who does not tell lies in all caps on Twitter would be as well. 

I’m not going to disagree with Smith on that. This progress was long overdue, and there is a lot of work still to be done.

On the other hand, this is the first time in a while that American democracy feels like it is working in the way it is supposed to. We could never have anticipated the stress that came over our country in the last four years. The days following Nov. 3 left many of us struggling between hope and terror as we watched the election results trickle in. 

With that in mind, I’m not going to worry about Smith’s proposition just yet. On Jan. 20, I will watch Biden be sworn in as our 46th president with as much joy as the Queen fans outside my window. On Jan. 21, I will gladly start talking about the work that needs to be done. 

Smith may be right that, in a different context, the events of this past week would not be worth celebrating. But that does not matter to me at all right now. An intelligent, qualified pair will move into their offices in the White House and President Donald Trump is going to have to leave. 

Smith also writes, “Virtue is excellence, something uncommonly great and beautiful, which rises far above what is vulgar and ordinary.” We’ve just watched this happen in real time, so it would be absurd not to celebrate it for the victory that it is.