Like hundreds of thousands of others around the country — around the world — on Wednesday, Jan. 20, I watched the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala D. Harris as president and vice president of the United States of America. And yes, I got teary-eyed more than once over the course of the day, as I am sure many others did, although no doubt many were teary-eyed for very different reasons.
It was, for me, such a profoundly proud moment to watch as a woman of color was sworn in as vice president and to see the joy and pride on her face as she swore to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which she was about to enter, so help her God.
It gave me such a huge sense of relief to hear President Biden speak, coherently and in full sentences, of hope and unity and actual duty to country. It was so refreshing to hear him pledge to be truthful and honest, truth and honesty having been in such short supply in the White House over the last four years.
There was just so much to celebrate over the course of the day.
But for me, in a day full of highlights, one of the biggest and brightest was 23-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet ever. With her poem,
“The Hill We Climb,” I believe Ms. Gorman has shown us the way we must move forward.
She reminded us of what we have been: “We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.”
She reminded us what we can be: “We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.”
And she challenged us to be what we should be: “And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.”
I most sincerely hope we can meet her challenge. But to do so, we must truly take to heart this part of her message: “There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
But how can we “be the light”? We don’t even all agree on what that means. Part of the answer lies in President Biden’s words when he talked about how we have to come together as a country, how we have to learn to disagree without going to war against each other, how we must seek unity.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we “unify” with the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 or with those in Congress — or in the White House — who helped plan and stage and incite that attack. They must face the proper consequences for their heinous actions. That is justice. And where there is no justice, there is no peace and there is no light.
But when we demand that they pay the price, we have to make those demands for the right reason. It has to be justice, not vengeance. Vengeance is too easy, too common. And vengeance leads only to destruction. Hate only breeds more hate.
No, I am not saying we should just forgive and forget. This is no time to go all lollipops and rainbows.
We can’t let misplaced sympathies and some people’s self-serving calls for unity (now that they are no longer the majority) distract us from justice. Justice is necessary.
But we still live in the midst of a pandemic that has already taken the lives of more than 400,000 people in this country alone, more than 2 million worldwide.
And the pandemic is far from the only danger we face. So we don’t have time for infighting and petty partisan bickering — and that goes both ways.
Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House. But that doesn’t mean that Democrats get to just run roughshod over the Republicans. That will accomplish nothing.
That’s where bravery comes in. We have to be brave enough to put our country first, above partisan politics and above our personal needs and wants. That, I believe, is where Trump and his whole administration came up drastically short. And that is where the Biden administration and all of us cannot fall short.
We must be brave enough to be the light.
Tammye Nash is managing editor of Dallas Voice. Her opinions here are her own.