And finally, it’s over.
The term of United Sates President Donald J. Trump has officially ended as of January 20, 2021; and it couldn’t have come a minute too soon. Trump exits the White House as the most disgraced, disavowed Commander-In-Chief in modern U.S. history; a divisive, uninformed non-leader who infected the highest office in the land with a low-brow, dangerously narcissistic aura that seemed to darken every corner of American culture during his presidency. But the end of the Trump error doesn't signal the end of what it has wrought.
“This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous," the departing, disgraced Trump stated in his farewell address. "We extend our best wishes, and we also want them to have luck — a very important word."
The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is an occasion for rejoicing amongst the more left-leaning citizenry of America. But as we watch Biden become 46th President alongside Harris as the first Black and first female Vice President, there's also room for quiet, guarded pragmatism. What the last four years has confirmed (not revealed) about American society is that patriotism has long been a guise under which bigotry has flourished, and that racism has to be routed out, decisively and deliberately, before this country can ever move forward.
In Regina King's stellar One Night In Miami, there's a jarring opening scene involving Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and an old family friend (Beau Bridges) that serves as a reminder of the insidiousness of American racism. It's comfortable to shout it down when it manifests in the militance of groups like the Proud Boys or in swastika-wearing extremists; but it's most definitely entrenched in virtually every institution and embedded in so much of American perspective. It is pervasive in every facet of American culture. The same way a kind face can ask about your Momma in one breath and cut you with a racist epithet in the next, white America can pat itself on the back for mainstreaming terms like "privilege" and "systemic racism" while perpetuating and galvanizing them.
It is very tempting to use Donald Trump as the go-to symbol for 2010s American hate, divisiveness, and anti-intellectualism; but that's our good ol' red white 'n blue defensiveness kicking in. It's the same American defensiveness (often misaddressed as optimism) that declared "This is not who we are" after the Capitol Riots showed us exactly who America is. If we are supposed to have gained anything from the chaos and cravenness of the past four years, we should have learned that our American cultural wounds run too deep to continue to ignore. Our societal ills have left us fighting for our proverbial lives; as a literal virus continues to ravage the most vulnerable among us.
"Cautious optimism" might be the most convenient way to describe my feelings at the moment.
I'm glad that 45 is no longer sitting in the Oval Office, and hopeful that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris make good on what constituents have demanded of them.
But I am mostly resolute in believing that America can't go back to pretending it's progressed farther than it has; that we can't just rely on trendy buzzwords that eventually formed as a panacea against an easy administration to hate.
"We've learned again that democracy is precious," President Biden said in his inaugural address. "Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed."
The Trump-incited Capitol Riots of January 6, stoked after the former President continuously declared his failed re-election a result of voter fraud and told rioters to descend upon the Capitol for a "wild time," was the final, most glaring punctuation on an administration that had ridden on the backs of racism, xenophobia and denial from the moment the mogul-turned-reality-star-turned-twice-impeached-president entered the political fray. Trump's first forays into politics were his "birther" diatribes aimed at then-President Barack Obama; a racist conspiracy theory that the 44th President was not, in fact a U.S. citizen. He promised to restore America to a past "glory" that never truly existed by playing into white America's anxieties about its own supposed preeminence.
As Trump departs for Florida (how appropriate that he finds his way to the state that has become an American symbol for base criminality and outlandish ineptitude), we must never allow ourselves to believe that the racism that got him elected; the arrogance that bungled the response to a global pandemic; the entitlement that led to millions of Americans actively voting for him again in 2020, isn't going anywhere.
"We'll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities," Biden said. "Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. Few people in our nation's history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we're in now."
“Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning"
Trump said those words in his outgoing address.Those words sound ominous to anyone who has suffered through and because of the last four years of the Trump administration. But they aren't just empty cheerleading. Trump's rise will serve as a harbinger of what is coming if Americans aren't vigilant against the insidiousness of "social anxiety" used as a shield for darker American woes. Racism and hate have been allowed to drive our police departments, our economic policies and our legislation since this country's inception. Can the tawdriness of one president suddenly shake this land enough to make substantial, wide-reaching change? I won't speculate on that.
That's too big a concern for any singular incoming administration. But what can happen is a deliberate, dedicated systemic and economic focus on leveling a skewed playing field. There is no going back to what was. Biden and Harris have a heavy job on their hands. They at least have the last guy to serve as example of what not to do. American will heal from Trump; but it has to address the sickness that predates him.
Best wishes and best of luck to the President and Vice President.