If one could sum up the entire Biden Inauguration in just one word it would be different. From the mask-wearing participants to the bolstered presence of National Guard troops to the sea of flags replacing usual throng of spectators it all felt different. From the diverse cast of speakers representing a variety of ethnicities to a departure from some of the inaugural traditions due to Trump’s refusal to attend the event, it was all different.
The last two weeks at the Capitol have been harrowing. The deadly insurrection incited by the incumbent president and the impeachment that followed the week after demanded that things be done differently.
But it’s not the fact that for the first time in the history of this great land that a woman, a black woman, a South Asian woman placed her hand on the Bible and gave the oath of office that I want to focus on.
Those are all important, historic moments that I and many others witnessed with tears streaming down our faces. Those are the images that will be circulated on the front pages of newspapers the world over. But that’s not the story I want to focus on.
Let’s focus on the less glitzy side of the day for a moment. Let’s address the elephant in the room. Let’s call this out because if we don’t, we’ll never get past it. Let’s talk about the fact that for the first time in American history, our country was in such a state of political unrest that there were 5 times as many troops at the Capitol yesterday than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Yesterday, democracy played out on a battlefield.
Twelve years ago we were in a similar situation. Half of the country held its breath, waiting on tinder-hooks for an explosive demonstration of White Fragility in response to Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Rumours of terror attacks flew but proved to be unfounded. Speculation of some ill-fated JFK-style response hung heavy in the air, threatening to quell the celebratory mood. Yet throughout Obama’s first inaugural address in which he touched on the need for a measured, calm response to everything from plutocracy to the green new deal, the collective anxiety seemed to ease. By the time we witnessed the first African-American President and First Lady sway around the dance floor, it started to sink in that an attack wouldn’t be imminent. Our breathing became deeper, our tensed shoulders relaxed, we unclenched our jaws and enjoyed the moment and looked ahead to the glory and progress of the next eight years.
But just two weeks after a President who spent the entirety of his campaign and his presidency fomenting hatred, advocating violence and giving voice to White Supremacists, incited a deadly insurrection, security was increased like never before.
As we prepared for both Obama inaugurations, we expected violence. We expected threats and mobs and domestic terrorism to ring through the Capitol as racists watched the highest office in the land for the first time get filled by a man who, some 144 years prior, would have been enslaved and the property of a white man.
The terror never came. The advancement of black and brown folks to a place of prominence levelled the playing field. The global acceptance and consistently high approval rating of a black man in office spoke louder than the dissent of a minority of bigots. Progress literally silenced them. Success kept them in check. The fact that they had value and worth due in part to the 8.9 million jobs Obama created by 2016 abated disenfranchisement.
In 2021, things are different. Under the Trump administration, White Supremacy was given international attention. Trump’s refusal to denounce supremacy only exacerbated the issue, fanning the flames of civil disruption. The Republican majority Senate and Trump’s refusal to administer enough federal aid to sustain our people in the wake of Coronavirus, saw many lose their jobs and businesses and file for unemployment. Their irresponsibility and trickle-down economic policies created, as it often does, disenfranchisement.
Where progress squelched White Supremacist voices in 2009 and again in 2012, a campaign and administration built on name calling and abuse, littered with allegations of everything from tax evasions to sexual deviancy and sexual assault and rape has emboldened and empowered a morally bankrupt hate-filled mob.
Not since the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement have the voices and racist ideals of White Supremacists been so saturated in mainstream news and politics. Trump and the GOP have unleashed Pandora’s Box on the nation and we must wade through everything that spills from it.
We are not dealing with the watered down protests of the John Birch Society. This is more than a few racists reliving the days of segregation with a glimmer in their eye while knocking back a few at a Whites Only bar in Birmingham, Alabama.
On our watch, through the silent complicity of an entire Republican Party (with the exception of Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted to convict Trump of impeachment the first time around) a racist president stirred ideologies America had long since worked to overturn. While White Supremacy and racism had never gone away, it had been contained significantly. Prior to Charlottesville, when had we last seen such a blatant public gathering? We had driven the KKK to the outskirts and hills of red states … until Trump.
To have gone through two terms of a black President without an assassination attempt shows just how much control White Supremacists lacked. Now, the scales have tipped and it would be foolish to assume they will rescind quietly back into their hovels, their tails between their legs, especially after Trump’s farewell speech promised, in a slightly Schwarzenegger-esque style that he’d be back. “Our movement is only just beginning,” he vowed.
Trump and White Supremacists will not dissolve into oblivion easily and quickly. The Proud Boys have been given a rally cry to “stand back and stand by”. Since 6 January, angry and anonymous White Supremacists have shouted on the voicemails of Democratic congressmen: we have poked the bear. We have awoken and empowered hate groups.
These groups are so prominent now that they, in their anger and misdirection, have single-handedly changed the entire landscape of the inauguration. America is different right now. Different in a way that it hasn’t been since the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.
Now the work begins of pushing White Supremacists back into the echelons of obscurity. Now we must take back the narrative and continue to call out racism and toxic nativism. We must demonstrate that such ideologies are in the minority, that there is no longer a place for tiki-torch marches, MAGA hats and hatred.
Anyonita Green is an American in Britain. She writes with a confessionalist voice, exploring narrative essays, BAME topics, pop culture, parenthood, obesity, race, travel, literature and food.