The Awe and Anguish of Being an American Today
The lofty language and political togetherness of Joe Biden’s Inauguration made for a day to believe, again, in America and the idea of sharing power, even among people who disagree about almost everything. Listening to the enchanting young poet Amanda Gorman, I got a little weepy as she told us, “While democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust.” Lady Gaga’s powerful rendition of our anthem—pounding home the line “Our flag was still there”—was as relevant to the treasonous challenge to Congress this month as it was when British warships bombarded Fort McHenry, in 1814. On the very site of an insurrection that, two weeks earlier, threatened our union and resulted in five deaths, Joe Biden, our new President, promised that “democracy has prevailed.” His optimistic energy was infectious.
The problem, after any Inauguration, is all those other days. We need to be honest with ourselves about the health of our democracy. America has made gradual progress, no doubt. We are evolving, albeit with millions still denying the election results. On Wednesday, a woman born to Black and South Asian parents took the oath of office for the Vice-Presidency from a Latina Supreme Court Justice, another woman. “We dream. We shoot for the moon,” Kamala Harris said on Wednesday night. “We are undaunted in our belief that we will overcome.” Others will surely feel the same way. Biden has appointed the most diverse staff in history—men and a record number of women; Blacks, whites, and a Native American; a gay man and a transgender woman—who finally represent the splendid diversity of our land.
Yet we are still vulnerable to the selfish and voracious demands by many for more rights than others who are legally their equals. And to the belief in an alternative truth untethered to reality. During this sacred transition, some twenty-five thousand troops were deployed in my beloved Washington, D.C., in concentric circles, in an area of only five square miles—four times as many personnel as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria combined. On Inauguration Day, there was still spray paint on the Capitol’s marble columns—“A chilling reminder of what happened there just two weeks ago,” Senator Amy Klobuchar told NPR. Amid the calls to mend fences, the most striking images of the day were new fences, topped with prickly barbed wire, which prevented the public from participating in the celebration of their votes. Read on....