It Wasn’t the Inauguration We Wanted, But We’ll Get Our Joy in 2024

The momentousness of Kamala Harris’ ascension deserved more

I’m just gonna say it: Black folks were robbed of the opportunity to show out for Kamala Harris on Inauguration Day.

Joe Biden may have topped the ticket that mollywhopped Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, but the only enjoyable part of an otherwise miserable campaign for me was the excitement his running mate instilled in some of us. I was looking forward to seeing a sea of socially distanced Black folks wearing pink and green and/or Howard paraphernalia in celebration of Harris making history — and then, after the swearing in, watching her participate in the longest stroll most viewers at home would ever see.

I’m fully aware that the inauguration alone is no immediate cure for the societal ills currently plaguing this country, but it still would have been nice to see a bunch of Black folks happy about something happening in America on the news. (As difficult as it is to have any sizable faith in the system, I can always find some inkling of hope in the smiles of Black folks far less cynical than me.)

First, the good. Vice President Harris looked amazing wearing Christopher John Rogers, a Black designer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who now lives in New York City, and Sergio Hudson, another Black designer hailing from South Carolina. Her press, as always, remains undefeated. (Also wearing Hudson was former first lady Michelle Obama, whose jumpsuit perfectly encapsulated her obvious jubilation that Donald Trump’s presidency is over.) I also want to pay respects to Jill Biden and Bernie Sanders for their inauguration fashions.

Props, too, to Senator Amy Klobachur of Minnesota, who not only made good use of her speaker role at the inauguration but also made me laugh like hell for following Jennifer Lopez’s rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” — which somehow managed to incorporate “Let’s Get Loud” — with “Well, that was great.” One presumes that Beyoncé is on hold until it’s President Kamala Harris, but until then, J.Lo will keep booking and finding ways to plug more product. And let me not forget Gaga, her on-point vocals, and that big-ass patriotic bird on her chest.

But a specter also hung over the proceedings. Even as he’s lost his grip on presidential power, Donald Trump maintains the ability to play spoiler. It was hard to ignore that an already significantly scaled-back inauguration was scaled back even further thanks to a racist tyrant inciting a racist lynch mob. The already unbelievable theme of the Biden-Harris inauguration, “America United,” felt even further from reality given recent events.

Despite the Civil War cosplay that’s been going on with the far right, Biden kept with the theme. The day before his swearing in, Biden’s advisers told NBC News that his inaugural address “will speak about the need to bring the country together during an unprecedented moment of crisis.” Separately, Biden’s incoming press secretary said to the Wall Street Journal that Biden “wants to use the moment to call Americans to unity.”

I was looking forward to seeing a sea of socially distanced Black folks wearing pink and green and/or Howard paraphernalia in celebration of Harris making history — and then, after the swearing in, watching her participate in the longest stroll most viewers at home would ever see.

Funny enough, it was a call Trump himself made during a speech given at his own inauguration concert in 2017: “It’s a movement like we’ve never seen anywhere in the world, they say. There’s never been a movement like this, and it’s something very, very special. And we’re going to unify our country.”

Biden and Trump are both throwbacks searching for an era that either no longer exists or never truly did exist exactly the way they remember it. The difference between them is that Biden genuinely wants the country to unite, at least enough to disagree peacefully. Hours before Biden was sworn in, he attended services at the Cathedral of St. Matthews the Apostle in Washington with the top four leaders in Congress — two Democrats, two Republicans — and his ensuing speech urged Americans to mirror such overtures.

“We have much to do in this winter of peril,” he said, standing where a band of wannabe confederates had scaled the wall two weeks before. “Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. My whole soul is in this, bringing America together uniting our people… And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”

I don’t question Biden’s earnestness, but I laughed all the same when he claimed, “We have never ever ever failed in America when we acted together.”

Donald Trump is the biggest liar I have ever seen, but he’s at least honest enough about the ingrained division of this country. Even as he wished “the new administration” well in his farewell address the day before the inauguration, he told his supporters, “We will be back in some form.”

As I pleaded with those who have the means to do so: Now is the perfect chance to make sure that doesn’t happen, if for no other reason than the good of the nation. The same can be said of all of Trump’s co-conspirators. Maybe Mitch McConnell can be useful insofar as voting to convict Trump in impeachment so we never have to see that name on a ballot again, but the Kentucky senator will more likely return to being useless by the end of this sentence.

I don’t think Biden is naive about how Republicans move — 36 years in the Senate can’t help but sand that away — but as much as one grasps political theater, these are the same people who willingly let Trump blatantly try to steal an election before and after Election Day. Republicans didn’t let that bigot go until he left them with little choice, and they remain pot-committed to appeasing that same racist base of voters.

To Biden’s credit, his calls for unity were not totally removed from reality. I can’t recall a time in which the president not only name-checked White supremacy in his inaugural address but also argued that the country must defeat “a rise of political extremism, White supremacy, and domestic terrorism.” Unity can’t be attained without accountability, so best of luck to Biden making more good on this promise rather than uniting a country still so often in denial about itself.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just count my blessings to have survived the Trump era and hope the administration stomps out the White nonsense now so I can get my sights of Black happiness (led by aunties in pearls) back by the next inauguration.

Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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