Like so many of us, I’ve often felt like going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head during these past four years, especially, during the pandemic and in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection.
But on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, I shed happy tears as Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as president and vice president.
I wasn’t alone. Millions of people, young, old, Black, white, queer and non-queer, felt relief, joy and, even, in these despairing times, a bit of hope, as huddled by their TVs and phones or on social media, they watched this peaceful transfer of power. I doubt that there was a dry eye in the world when Lady Gaga looked toward the Capitol as she sang “the flag was still there” in the “Star Spangled Banner.”
“Even the air smells better!” a friend said after she’d gone out to walk her dog.
Usually, there’s something exciting, or at least reassuring, about Inauguration Day. Even if you didn’t vote for the president being inaugurated, it can feel like you’re watching history being made as the new president is sworn in. This was especially true for many of us when Barack Obama was inaugurated. On other Inauguration Days, I wasn’t thrilled with who’d been elected president. Yet, I felt proud that in our country, power was transferred without violence or big lies about election fraud.
This wasn’t the case in January 2017 when everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents watched as Donald J. Trump was inaugurated. Not surprisingly, for an incoming president who’d demeaned everyone from queer people to people of color to women to disabled people to immigrants, Trump’s inauguration wasn’t celebratory. There was no poetry – no Lady Gaga. Trumps’s administration was a moment of “American carnage.” Children in cages. Lies, lies, and more lies. And, by and large, an administration of old, white, non-queer men governing for people who looked like them.
Biden’s inauguration brought America, with its vibrant diversity and resilience, back to itself. The Capitol was a fortress. Thousands of National Guard troops stationed in Washington, D.C., and state capitals nationwide to protect against potential violence from white supremacists and other extremists. Yet, there was the thrilling moment when Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, swore in Kamala Harris as the first Black, Asian-American, female vice president of the United States.
People who roll their eyes at poetry tell me how moved they were when Amanda Gorman, at 22 the youngest inaugural poet, read her poem “The Hill We Climb.” “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it/,” Gorman, who is Black and a former National Youth Poet Laureate, recited, “Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.”
“Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Gorman, who like Biden had a speech impediment as a child, asked in recognition of the violence and bigotry that many have encountered in our time.
We’ve been in the shade for eons. We’d be lying to ourselves and one another if we thought the light could be found quickly or easily.
Yet, the Biden administration as it begins to govern is shining a few, vibrant rays of light. Biden’s Cabinet, if confirmed, would look more like America than any previous administration’s Cabinet. On Jan. 25, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was confirmed as the first female United States Treasury Secretary. On Jan. 22, Lloyd Austin was confirmed as Secretary of Defense. He’ll be the first Black person to run the Pentagon. Pete Buttigieg seems well on his way to being confirmed as Transportation Secretary. Dr. Rachel Levine has been nominated as Assistant Secretary of Health. If confirmed, Levine would be the first out transgender official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Times will remain hard for marginalized Americans, particularly for LGBTQ people. It’s wonderful that Biden has signed an executive order undoing Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. Yet, we have a Supreme Court that’s as conservative as the court in the 1930s.
But, having a government that represents all Americans gives us light and hope.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.
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