As I enjoy a nice celebratory glass of scotch whisky, I want to take a moment to reflect on the inauguration of Joseph Biden as our 46th President, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris.
In the spirit of new beginnings I’m going to do my best to focus this post on the positives and my hopes for the future of this country, but it’s impossible to so without first acknowledging the events that took place earlier this month on January 6th. We’ve all seen videos and images of the insurrection that took place at the Capitol, and unfortunately we’ll be dealing with the repercussions of those rioters for the foreseeable future. The shadow these domestic terrorists cast looms large, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to live under it. White supremacy is rooted deep in our national history but the only way to eliminate its shadow is to shine a light on it. We have the opportunity to face white nationalism head-on and come to terms with how pervasive and systemic it is in our country. To let this opportunity pass us by will do irreparable damage to our country.
January 6th won’t be the last time a threat to our democracy rears its head, but I take solace in the fact that we no longer have an administration that emboldens and purposefully incites those people. The words of the President of the United States matter. When white nationalist groups aren’t condemned, or their actions are ignored by an administration, they’re given tacit approval for their actions. It’s safe to say addressing this issue will be one of the biggest challenges of the Biden administration.
The rise of right wing extremism is just one of countless obstacles this White House will face; we haven’t even gotten to the global pandemic. 400,000 American lives have been lost to COVID-19 because the prior administration refused to take it seriously. Trump could have recommended the public use masks a year ago. Hell, he could have slapped MAGA logos on some masks and sold them for a profit on his campaign website; it would hardly be the biggest grift of his presidency. Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s ego got in the way and prevented him from listening to scientists who have dedicated their lives to preparing for such disasters. COVID gave Trump the opportunity to be a leader and unfortunately he shrugged responsibility every step of the way.
And yet after experiencing the past four years, there are still people who will say this election changes nothing, that our government will continue to flounder and get nothing done. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” as it were. I couldn’t disagree more with this mindset. I will take an administration that prioritizes science, equality, the very health of our planet, any day of the week. Will the Biden administration seriously address small businesses and employees hurt by the pandemic, our broken health care system, climate change, equal rights, immigration reform, gerrymandering, or statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico? It’s impossible to tell today, but none of these topics would even be on the table at a federal level under a second Trump term. That fact is why I remain optimistic.
That America is a flawed experiment does not mean it is a failed experiment. We have a populace that is more involved in politics than ever. I look forward to spending the next four years arguing the best policy approaches, rather than spending time arguing against bad faith actors.
As President Biden said today, “Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
With all of that said, please indulge me with some quick thoughts on the rest of today’s proceedings:
-Amanda Gorman, today’s inaugural poet, was lights-out phenomenal. Her poem “The Hill We Climb” was moving and nailed the perfect tone for this inauguration. She notes that the union isn’t perfect, but we persevere when we move forward with purpose. Here’s one of my favorite verses: “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it / would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy / And this effort very nearly succeeded / But while democracy can be periodically delayed / it can never be permanently defeated.” It’s a poem students will be analyzing in lit classes for sure, and one that will be going on my office wall in short order. (I’d also be remiss not to mention the two nods to Hamilton she threw in.)
-Watching Kamala Harris put her hand on that Bible and take her oath of office was a monumental moment that brought tears to my eyes. The first woman, the first Black American, the first South Asian American ever to hold the office of Vice President. Millions of little girls just had the opportunity to picture themselves in her place on the Capitol steps. I sincerely hope Vice President Harris’s journey inspires some of them to run for office and that they no longer see themselves as limited by birth. Breaking down these barriers is why representation matters. Next ceiling to break: the Presidency. I’m certain it will happen in our lifetime.
-When it comes to Biden, I admit I was nervous. Any slip up would get amplified by the Fox Newses of the world, and although I’m not a praying man, I was hoping with all my being he would get through it without a hitch. As it turns out, my worry was unfounded. Biden knocked it out of the park with his speech, and the main reason is it played into his greatest strength: his ability to display empathy. His message of healing divides, unity, and ending this “uncivil war” could have easily inched into cheesy territory, but Biden was able to deliver it sincerely. Kudos to Biden’s speech writers.
There’s a lot in their pasts to criticize Biden and Harris over, and those criticisms will continue to come. Yesterday’s problems didn’t miraculously disappear because Biden and Harris were sworn in. But for today, I’m choosing to enjoy the moment; to focus on the America that can be rather than the America that is.