President stayed 15 minutes after talk for selfies and handshakes.
President Biden takes selfies with admirers during a visit to Oceanside in 2021. Photo by Chris Stone

I hug trees.

What began as an expression of childhood wonder has blossomed into a reverential gesture of gratitude for the gifts of beauty, shade, and kinship these majestic sentries of time and place provide.

In a kinder world, hugging a tree would feel as natural as shaking the hand of a respected colleague or wrapping a loved one in a warm embrace. But in our polarized, me-centric society, the selfless act of hugging a tree is often scorned.

Of all the derogatory labels flung at empathetic people, “tree hugger” has endured the test of time. Like its contemporary counterparts, “snowflake” and “woke,” calling someone a “tree hugger” implies a person is emotional and erratic — someone incapable of being counted on.

American political leadership is defined by a decisive, often confrontational, go-it-alone attitude that considers empathy an annoyance to mock and conquer. Considering the feelings of others when deliberating the consequences of official acts implies a weakness that has no place in the business of statecraft.

Enter President Joe Biden.

Unlike his carefully scripted, close-to-the-vest predecessors, Biden wears his personal tragedies and triumphs on his sleeve. Buoyed by faith, family, and perseverance, this great grandson of Irish immigrants speaks freely — and deeply — of his traumatic, life-altering experiences: overcoming a childhood stutter, mourning the deaths of his young wife and infant daughter in a horrific car crash, and grieving the loss of his eldest son, Beau, from brain cancer at the age of 46.

By leading with his heart, Biden forged common ground among the various factions under the Democratic Party’s big tent, turning the timeworn Republican taunt “bleeding heart liberal” on its head.

Staring down razor-thin Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, Biden commiserated with frontline political champions of military veterans (Sen. Jon Tester of Montana), working families (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York), gun safety advocates (Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut), LGBTQ community members (Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Minnesota), semiconductor chip makers (Sen. Mark Warner of Virgina) and environmentalists (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island), notching up an impressive string of victories during the first two years of his presidential term.

Collaboration and compromise are common threads woven throughout the fabric of these sweeping legislative packages, a handful passing with bipartisan support in both chambers: The Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS and Science Act, Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act, Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, American Rescue Plan, Safer Communities Act and Respect for Marriage Act.

Compassion is President Biden’s secret weapon on the battlefield of ideas. As a child teased on the playground and reprimanded in the classroom for living with a stutter, he understands that pinning derogatory labels on people is a go-to tactic of schoolyard bullies, whose quest for self-preservation feeds on their resentments and insecurities.

Throughout the second half of his four-year term, Biden will continue living by the lights of his formative life experiences, with the battle for the soul of America his North Star. The president’s bipartisan crusade for kindness and civility calls on Americans, from all walks of life, to harness the transformational power of us.

Standing and working together, we’ll Make America Grateful Again.

A second-generation San Diegan and nonprofit consultant, Molly Bowman-Styles is the President of Windansea Communications.


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Ellen Bullock