By Sydney Black
As 2020 came to a close, people continually wondered, “Could 2021 be more chaotic than 2020?” Last year brought many challenges, and this January has become a worthy challenger. In the face of a pandemic and broken democracy following a divisive election, what was arguably a coup struck the Capitol and Donald Trump was impeached for the second time soon after. With Trump’s refusal to attend the inauguration of Biden, concerns over a peaceful transfer of power arose across both sides of the political aisle. So what actually happened on January 20th?
It would seem a rather uneventful change of power, despite the months of building political tension. At around 12:00 p.m., Joe Biden was sworn into office under oath as president, and Kamala Harris became the first female vice president minutes prior. With this new role comes an ambitious agenda that we are likely to see advance in the near future, ranging from climate policy to executive orders reversing many of his predecessor’s policies.
Furthermore, as citizens sat behind television screens and logged on to Zoom meetings to gather with family and friends across the country, Biden called for a new sense of unity. In the words of Biden himself, “the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us.” Although Biden won the election, his victory should not come at the cost of the large minority of voters, rather it should be used to promote a central value. A value of democracy. The same stage where rioters had stood weeks prior, he stood now, “in the shadow of a Capitol dome that was completed amid the Civil War, when the Union itself hung in the balance. Yet we endured and we prevailed. Here we stand looking out to the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protestors tried to block brave women from marching for the right to vote.”
This said, the events of this month have clearly shown that a change of power and leadership is not sufficient to heal the wounds that have divided America not only throughout this year but for a long time. So while we may be turning a page, we are certainly not closing the chapter of brutal partisan divides.
Going forward, there must be a concerted effort to rebuild the democratic institutions, whether that be the electoral process or court systems, as these institutions have been left behind in the political brawling of the last few years. And this shouldn’t be a one-party effort, either. While Democrats may now technically gain control of the House, Senate, and Executive Branch, there is a unique opportunity presented. The Senate has a 50-50 party split, meaning that the Vice President will make the final decision regarding any ties. However, if a member of a party crosses over to the opposite side, a bill could be passed, which offers a distinct opportunity for cooperation. Ultimately, the inauguration of a new president offers a chance to take a step back and reevaluate how we should move forward. The process of fully recovering from COVID-19, bridging racial divides, and overcoming immense political disunity will be a lengthy and high effort one. Despite these challenges, our democracy is not lost forever. In the words of Amanda Gorman, the poet laureate who performed at the inauguration, “While democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption.”