Every time we sing the national anthem we ask the question, “does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” amid the perilous fight and the bombs bursting in air.
These past two weeks, since violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capital, the answer has been in doubt. Not literally—Congress reconvened that same day and democracy carried on—but the spirit of the nation has been dazed as we suffered this terrible attack and reckoned with the deeper divide.
But today, Inauguration Day, as Lady Gaga belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” on the same Capital steps that two weeks ago held a swarming mob, it did the spirit of this nation well to see those broad stripes and bright stars so gallantly streaming.
It was a moment of history watching Kamala Harris sworn in as the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president—hearing the words “Madam Vice President” were powerful.
But that was perhaps overshadowed by the vanquishing of Donald Trump, the twice-impeached president who didn’t attend the inauguration (first time that’s happened since 1869 when another impeached president, Andrew Johnson, refused to attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration).
Four years ago today I noted how far removed we were from politics as usual. More than typical political divides, Trump represented something new. In trying to put words to what made Trump different, I said, “He doesn’t care about what’s true, he only cares about winning.” How painfully prophetic those words would come to be as Trump spent the last year lying about election fraud—lies that fueled that assault on the Capital.
I noted four years ago that, “This will be a test like we haven’t seen before, at least not in my lifetime,” and again, I’m afraid, I was right.
The worst part is, that test continues. Just because a new president is inaugurated doesn’t mean those divisions are instantly healed and our country is unified. We have a long road to walk and a lot of work to do.
But on this historic day, as all days, there is light.
After President Joe Biden was sworn in and gave his inaugural speech calling for unity and an end to this “uncivil war,” 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman took the stage to recite her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” giving soaring words to this moment, speaking light to our never-ending shade.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried that will forever be tied together victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.…
When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.