The January 20 inauguration of President was an American civics lesson. Sadly, an excellent civics lesson does not abrogate the uncivil melee that two weeks preceded it. By Inauguration Day, the detritus of the January 6 riot had been swept from sight. However, the mindset that gave vent to the wild insurrection will pollute the American air for some time to come, much like a rat that perishes inside the wall of one’s bedroom. The rodent may have departed but its stench continues to reek and, thus, define the room if not the entire house for the animal was a large, pestilent one. No matter the amenities the room may offer, the noxious odor taints it all.
Still, considering the limitations imposed by COVID and the anxiety generated by white supremacist threats, the Biden inauguration was an inspiring sight to behold. I am no great fan of pomp and circumstance. Nor am I enamored with Biden and his political antecedents. However, it would be ill-tempered of me to assign much fault to the occasion. Events of that day were stately without being funereal. Words spoken were serious without being somber. It was celebratory without being syrupy. The inauguration spoke around Trump without speaking directly about him. Trump was not there but then again, he was there, like the decaying rat in the wall.
Three former presidents (Clinton, Bush and Obama) attended and did their best to act like old chums egging on a new member of their exclusive club to do better than they had done before him. Republican and Democrat talked and walked together like people who had just gone through a harrowing experience together. While the shared experience may not turn strangers into friends, it fosters an inchoate comradery that may either blossom into a stronger bond or whither if left unattended. Time will tell if devotion to nation or to lesser interests will prevail once the happy aura of the inauguration fades.
For those Americans who still hold to common sense, the inauguration felt like a great lifting. As Trump boarded the presidential aircraft for the last time, up went a collective sigh of relief from most Americans. People felt like employees do upon learning that a mean, cruel boss had been fired from company and unceremoniously walked from the premises.
The exit of Trump from the White House will be known as the Great Relief. For many, watching the scenes of the inauguration was redolent of people emerging from their homes after a destructive hurricane had passed. No matter their prior disputes and disagreements, all were happy to see that each other had survived. Surveying the storm’s aftermath, they spoke more about the fact that things basically remained intact than about the damage that had been done.
No president in modern times has been so full of bombast and petulance yet so devoid of bravery and prudence as Trump. That he was able to attract such large, often rabid support speaks to an ill and evil that America, as its better self, wishes it had buried. But this affliction is as American as America itself. There is something terribly wrong in the socialization of many, but not all, white Americans. To be frank all cultures are imperfect and teach their members things that should not be taught. Black American culture surely has its afflictions and contradictions yet it does not teach its members to hate and seek to oppress other races in their entirety.
The culturalization of many white Americans often involves a mixture of unfounded racial superiority with a fondness for wholesale repression of those they consider beneath them. The fact that many whites consider everyone else beneath them means their socialization is too often prone to fascist intolerance and irrational levels of bigotry built on white nationalism, two traits at odds with the stated tenets of American democracy which speak of human equality and universal freedom. These whites reconcile the irreconcilable by holding to the position that America should return to a herrenvolk democracy. Meaning it is a democracy for white men and all others should be happy with whatever sliver of democracy the white population deigns to give them.
This is crux of the Trump presidency and the January 6 Capitol riot. In the final analysis, the dissection of the Trump presidency is to peer into the anatomy of a belief system founded on the love of hate and elevation of ignorance as a virtue superior to the vice of wisdom. The world of Trump and his supporters is an unregenerate, unapologetic one where pride and honor go to those who can hate the most and spew bigoted screed the farthest.
These people are set in a world governed by dualities. There is white and black and never the twain shall meet. Evil and Good. Man and Woman. Master and Slave. American and foreigner. But today’s America is multidimensional. Not only is there white and black. There are brown, red, yellow and a growing population that mixes all the above. Much was stated of Kamala Harris being the first female, black, and Asian Vice President. Less discussed but equally historic, hers is the first racially mixed marriage to occupy one of the nation’s top positions. I am no fan of Harris for I think she lacks the requisite progressive scruples to accomplish what is needed at this hour, yet I still acknowledge that her ascendance marks a spot in America history that should have been marked long before. In any event, she promises to outperform her predecessor and this is cause for some form of relief.
Joe Biden’s cabinet and staff also reflect America’s diverse demographics. For the first time, a black man occupies the office of Defense Secretary which is the most powerful cabinet position given the size of the American military, its ominous budget and global mandate. Also, he has hired men who are married to husbands and women married to wives as well as men who used to be women and women who were once men. Here, conservative religionists should stop reading for what I next write will be upsetting. You will say all this proves that Biden is a child of Satan and does not believe in God.
Now, what you say about Biden may be true. No one can tell the heart of another; many people claim God but know Him not. However, your evidence against Biden falls if the evidence is his tolerance of gays, lesbians and others. America is a constitutional democracy that professes equality of all people. For this to have any meaning it must actually mean “all people” no matter who or what they are. Everyone is entitled to the fullness of citizenship. Thus, none should be subjected to discrimination in the arena of public life.
If you do not what to invite a lesbian or queer person to your birthday party, that is your prerogative.
But none should be denied gainful employment equal to their merit or deprived the right to serve their nation. If you discriminate against such people and believe they should be denied such rights, then you must be consistent in application of your religious injunctions. Neither the adulterer, the liar, those who have dishonored mother or father, those of froward tongue nor the businessman who engages in unethical schemes (i.e., uses dishonest weights and scales) to finagle a profit should be eligible for positions in government.
If you apply such standards fairly, then the corridors of government in America and other nations would be mostly vacant. If you do not apply these standards fairly, then you are a hypocrite whose subjective bias is such an offense that it precludes you from rightfully committing on another human being’s fitness. In a constitutional democracy as America defines itself, all are to be treated with fairness and latitude. None should be denied their access to prosperity and vocation. Judgment as to the moral correctness of any life is better left to the Almighty who knows and loves so much more than our flawed souls can. Joe Biden is often wrong; on this important matter, he is completely right.
The Americans who believe in the traditional duality and those who see a multidimensional nation face each other across the social battlefield. The former understands the war more so than the latter. While most people felt good seeing the mixture of colors and races that graced the inauguration, others bristled with a hatred as deep as the grandest of canyons.
America’s current poet laureate is the youngest in history. She is also a black woman of high intelligence and an astounding gift for verbal imagery and inspiration. As I watched her, my eyes watered. For her to have this moment, slaves escaped into the woods at night not knowing whether their trek, their expression of desperate courage, would carry them to freedom or visit upon them brutal death. For her, our people marched throughout the South asking for their humanity to be returned to them. For her, Martin Luther King, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and others gave their lives. This young sister paid tribute to them all as well as to all that was best in America regardless of race. At that moment, she was America, a living, breathing Sister, not a lifeless Statue, of Liberty, reciting her poem with a slight hip-hop cadence. Generations of soul and striving burst forth in this slender, almost tiny, daughter of ours. All that we were and hope to be, she spoke of. To me, she was the highlight of a glowing day. Once again, a black woman rose to the occasion to affirm the best of America even though black women are among the most put-down of Americans.
While watching her with pride, a disconcerting thought walked my mind. There are roughly a million white Americans who would have gladly shot her where she stood if they had but the chance. And they would have lauded themselves as heroes for downing such a beautiful person who spoke a vision of America their hate-inebriated minds could never comprehend. Yes, the inauguration made most Americans feel better. However, all of the smiling brown and black faces at the event, angered both radical white supremacist groups as well as the neighborhood racist down the street. Of those 74 million Americans who voted for Trump, almost all of them rather the traditional duality of the past than the multidimensional diversity that is forming. Joining them are a like number who did not vote. Thus, well over 100 million Americans are at war with an inevitable future. Their fight is more futile than that of the slave-holding South in America’s Civil War. They too will lose it but, in the process, they will cause great damage.
America is attempting the unique. It is transforming from a bifurcated racial society to a freer, more racially diverse society while still maintaining its democratic form of government. In effect, it attempts a social and demographic revolution while holding to its democratic political traditions. In other words, America is attempting to protect the procedural forms of governance while changing the social substance of that governance. Political democracy is being used to make America more socially and culturally democratic. The irony is that those most loyal to the democratic political traditions are relative newcomers to it. They are also those leading the social revolution. Those opposed to the social revolution now want to undo the democratic traditions they claim as their exclusive heritage. Events since the election have revealed their love of democracy was only situational. They supported democracy as long as it functioned to help them control racial minorities. In the end, their objective was not democracy but white racial dominion.
Stepping into the presidency, Joe Biden also steps into the middle of this impending collision between the traditional social duality and the modern, multi-sided America. He believes he can be a bridge between the two sides. He, in fact, may be able to delay or deflect the confrontation for a time. In the long-run, one side or the other must be defeated to the point where it is reduced to the social periphery. Both cannot remain potent social forces yet simultaneously occupy the same house. But that is for later.
For now, relief is in order. Inauguration Day was a fine, inspiring moment, demonstrating that America withstood the Trumpian farce. Yet, if not too swayed by the glad festivities, one can still smell that rat.
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