The America We Can Be
Updated: Mar 12
As fireworks exploded over the United States Capitol Mall to Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” on January 20th, CNN’s Van Jones declared that it was “A display of what America can be.”
Many of us let out a sigh of relief as Trump quietly left the White House and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office a few hours later on the steps of the Capitol. Just two weeks prior, on January 6th, we saw those same steps desecrated by a violent fascist mob of Trump supporters who were goaded on by many GOP lawmakers and Trump himself. While we have still yet to see Trump and his allies face legal consequences, the inauguration was, in many ways, a moral repudiation of the horrendous acts that had occurred just days before.
Biden’s inauguration was historically unlike any inaugurations before due to 2021’s unique circumstances. Flags filled the National Mall to represent the many people who would not be allowed to attend due to the pandemic, and over 20,000 National Guard Troops patrolled the premises in light of several threats of violence following the January 6th Capitol storming. The administration and inaugural committee still ensured that people across the country would be able to partake in the celebration.
The evening segment titled “Parade Across America” hosted by Tom Hanks featured many artists and celebrities as well as regular citizens who had done extraordinary things in the past year. In the hour and a half show, we saw a celebration of the United States’ cultural and creative diversity. We saw video montages of students and musicians from all fifty states. My favorite hidden gem was Justin Timberlake walking out of Stax records (the birthplace of soul music) to perform in the streets of Memphis, Tennessee.
The scenes were a stark reminder of what the last four years wanted us to forget. From Trumpism to emboldened white supremacy, racial division to police brutality, the last four years exacerbated and brought to light everything wrong in the U.S. In that shroud of hatred and corruption, it quickly became apparent that the United States were no longer United. Right versus Left, conservative versus liberal: each one for themselves.
After the events of the past 4 years, a message of unity, a message of decency, a message of a celebration of people and humanity feels almost like a rebellion, a repudiation, of the steadfast direction of where our country was heading. But we still have a long way to go.
When Obama was sworn into office in 2008, it was a historic run. Our nation's first Black President. A lot of people who would be now considered incredibly ignorant said that we had reached a “post-racial era” solely because we had a Black person as president. The Obama era ushered in a time of progressive change for the nation: the implementation of Obamacare and a public option in healthcare; the actual implementation of DACA, and a push for immigration reform. All while having a president whose style - from his signature way of speaking to his stature - was undeniably different from presidents before.
For many, Obama signaled a new age in this country. An age of progressiveness and change. Yet under that guise of progressivism, was a rising tide of white supremacy and divisive party politics. This became apparent in 2013 when Obama lost his democratic majority in the House, and then in 2015 when he lost the majority in the Senate as well.
In those four years, going through crisis after crisis, from natural disasters to domestic terrorism, the U.S. government became gridlocked. Bills would be drafted, but die in Congress. Policies would be written but never get anywhere. Congresspeople would vote along party lines and failure to compromise became a major issue. Meanwhile, the American people became more and more frustrated at the growing inaction and wanted change.
Fast forward to 2016,and the rise of Donald Trump. After four years of governmental gridlock, a political outsider became a candidate. Trump, a reality TV star, and member of the New York Elite, with no previous political experience announced his run for Presidency. The ill-spoken, brash, and seemingly un-presidential candidate was seen as a joke at first, but quickly rose through the ranks in the Republican primaries as he fear mongered, attacked, gaslighted, and scapegoated both his Republican competitors and many BIPOC groups in the U.S. and abroad. This seemingly ill-suited man wasn’t taken seriously at all as the Democratic party decided to nominate Hilary Clinton, hoping to run on the historic notion of having a woman for president, while presenting a more “establishment” politician that would continue Obama Era politics of progressive change to an extent.
I think what many failed to realize was how divided the U.S. really was in that moment. Whether it was frustration over partisan politics, or the deeply racist reaction to having a black man as president, people saw Trump as a person who would “shake things up,” a person who would be able to “drain the swamp.” And no doubt in the four years following that would be the result.