On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden placed his hand on the largest bible ever made and said the magic 35 words that crowned him the 46th President of the United States. With all the pomp and circumstance of a barren national mall, paltry crowd of political bigwigs, and the unlikely appearance of A-Rod, there was plenty to get lost in the shuffle. One thing that wasn’t lost on even a casual viewer, however, was the desire to “return to normalcy.”
On its face, returning to “normalcy” is an admiral goal and one that squares nicely with papa Joe’s message of unity, but there’s a huge problem with that kind of messaging. Not only is it impossible, it makes no sense to aim for. Normalcy, to Joe Biden and the old guard of politicos that make up the majority of our government and broadcasters, means going back to the days where we knew all the dangerous people and ideas that circulate the country, but believed them to be harmless or “just the way that generation is.” Unifying with white supremacists isn’t possible and that messaging being the star of the inauguration shows just how frustrating the next 4 years are going to be.
The formula to soften the blow of the outgoing administration isn’t a new one and everyone who’s paid attention to politics for longer than 1 presidency will recognize it. Step 1 is to soften Trump’s harmful legacy while showing his former collaborators as mislead, yet well-meaning, people that we can’t heal the nation without. The following steps include creating bipartisan resolutions to call out the ousted Trump, but take no real action in prosecuting him, all while going back to the status quo of Democrats asking nicely for a crumb of change only to get shut down for being “divisive” once again. It’s a narrative we’ve seen after Nixon and Bush the younger and it’s one we can’t let catch steam this time around.
Selling the lie
Hours before Biden gave a rambling lecture about unity, the talking heads on TV were busily laying the groundwork his argument. They spoke lovingly about how Biden’s visit to church before the ceremony was just the beginning of “radical normalcy” and other such meaningless talking points. Statements like this congratulate leaders simply for giving the outward appearance of change and act as potato chips in that they have no substance and will make you sick if you take to many. Liberals, especially white liberals, love these kinds of affirmations and while it’s impossible to talk about all of them, here were a few of the most egregious:
“Republicans will now finally turn on Trump and convict him in the Senate to forbid him from ever reaching this stage again”
This one came early in the program while attendees were still finding their seats. Sure, it’s a stupid statement and similar to the one we heard from Susan Collins after she voted not to convict Trump at his first impeachment. The problem is, everyone hearing it already knows it’s wrong, so why bring it up? Republicans followed their leader down the path of kids in cages and nearly any other horror you can think of, so why would they suddenly abandon the lifeblood of their failing party now
“Nations around the world look to this ceremony and peaceful transition of power as the enduring symbol of a healthy democracy”
Firstly, they kept saying this throughout the morning like most countries don’t have peaceful transitions of power. Sure, some don’t, but for the most part (even in so-called shithole countries) the rest of the world is doing democracy much better than we have for the last 5 years. Secondly, it wasn’t peaceful, and if you forgot, Amy Klobuchar is going to speak on length about it. Check your xenophobia next time NBC
“Stop talking, we see Hillary Clinton”
Even Fox News was getting in on the plan. The Fox crew was knee-deep in a discussion about how this is going to be a 3rd Obama term (a narrative I believe they’ll stick with) until Hillary Clinton walked into frame. They can’t help, but play the hits when they know everyone is watching
Softening the legacy
After Ronald Reagan died, the country deified him and named the airport I have to fly into whenever I return home after him rather than setting the corpse on fire like he deserved. After George W. Bush retired, he picked up painting and we all remarked on how he was “just a dumb guy who actually cared about children” instead exiling him and his entire party to the sands of the countries they illegally attacked. Softening the legacies of our oppressors makes the public feel better about all the horrible shit America inflicts on countries around the world as well as the bipartisan efforts to punish the marginalized at home, but we’re better now at recognizing it.
These days, the majority of the country knows Reagan (and his wife) was the Devil and George W. Bush should never get a redemption arc, but that doesn’t change the way these people are sold to us. We need to continually talk about what our elected officials do, even if we still like them. That includes Obama’s predilection for bombing children at weddings and that the latest boon for the prison industrial complex came from Bill Clinton’s crime bill. Portraying these people as flawed, but well-intentioned puts us right back where we were and leads to harmful practices like teaching kids in public school that the Civil War was mostly about “states rights.” Here were the most telling examples of this process already in motion:
Numerous republican lawmakers were in attendance without the broadcasters or other attendants throwing things at them.
Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnel, Mike Pence, and Paul Ryan (why) were all in the crowd and enjoyed heaps of screen time. Not once did I hear commentators ask why the same people who egged on an armed insurrection are not only allowed to keep their jobs, but allowed to sit within COVID distance of the new leader of the free world. Broadcasters instead opted to commend them on their solidarity and hoped they would work with the new administration despite that literally never being the case before today. One commentator went as far as to predict Mitch McConnel would happily work with Biden because when he sees Joe “he sees a good and honest man” like McConnel was still a human
“In 20 years, we’ll look back at this time and say the system worked”
This was the most willfully stupid sentence of the day. The system was hacked in 2016, and we went on to enable a dangerous fascist for an entire term until that fascist lost an election (that was also rigged in his favor) and called for a literal coup. What does this idiot mean the system worked? What worked was the widespread organizing (largely coordinated by BIPOC) to get out the vote and years of activists changing the way we talked about politics amongst ourselves online. The voting base is smarter now despite the efforts of both parties
Comparing Kamala Harris to Dick Cheney in terms of being “an influential Vice President”
Dick Cheney, and I can’t stress this enough, is one of the most evil people to waddle the face of this Earth in the last century. He wasn’t just influential, he was a shadow leader who controlled most of the administration without any oversight and fundamentally changed the powers of the presidency, a position he never even held. No matter what Kamala’s influence ends up being, comparing her position to Cheney does more to soften his legacy than to support hers
Unifying behind the new reality
So, what do they do now that they’ve set up the audience to forget some of the more harmful parts of the past and are inclined to embrace their former enemies? They tell us “any step away from unity is a step back to the hell we emerged from.” This wasn’t just in word either, the second person to speak to the nation at the grand podium was some Republican senator from Missouri. After being berated with all the red, white, and blue dogma and promises of a new nation full of a new, unified people, it only makes sense to buy into the program. They wouldn’t let some scrub from Missouri do the heavy lifting on such an important message, however, that’s a job reserved for the new unifier in chief. Some of the highlights of our new, one nation, under god were:
The overbearing saturation of Christianity
I know the separation of church and state is a myth we tell ourselves to defend from the knowledge that most of our government believes they should enact policy that a bronze-age sky wizard would like, but it’s still jarring to see it up close. There were 4 different breaks for prayer (none to any god not in the new testament, sorry everybody else) as well as Joe Biden promising his god would be actively involved in his job. Christianity to America is like science to the rest of the world; we listen to it and tell everyone who doesn’t to get out of the way
After designing the entire day around unity and the return to normalcy, it’s no surprise Biden would focus his speech on the same concepts. It’s a nice departure frump Trump’s American Carnage speech, but it was still over the top. He declared that we need to end our “uncivil war” and that America has “never, ever, ever failed,” but after the administration we suffered, we needed a speech about rooting out the racism in our country more than we needed one imploring us to forgive those responsible
This man wore jeans to the Capitol building. After selling us for 2 weeks on the notion that the Capitol is the most sacred place in our democracy, this clown wore jeans and didn’t wear a mask. His inclusion was clearly meant to bring in the country music crowd (which isn’t just Republicans guys), but it stood out as one of the craziest moments of the ceremony
The day wasn’t without its highlights. Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet laureate to speak at an inauguration, Biden directly called out white supremacy and domestic terrorism, and above all, Trump lost his job. Victories like these are worth celebrating and we shouldn’t lose sight of them. Good news is few and far between so it’s important to celebrate when we can, but we should remain vigilant when we’re clearly being sold a false narrative.
Biden has quite the job ahead of him and if he becomes the president history remembers for rescinding all the bad shit Trump put into place, that isn’t a satisfactory outcome. Leftists have the misfortune of aligning with the democratic party and while that party has a slim margin of power, we should push for as many reforms as possible. So, in the coming weeks, when we’re being pushed to accept the horrible people around us remember the government doesn’t deserve your forgiveness and neither do the MAGA people around you, but the government certainly owes you healthcare, safety, and way more than $2,000.