The American flag never looked as beautiful as it did on Inauguration Day. The sea of flags on the mall. The festoons that created the backdrop for the pageantry of the inauguration ceremonies. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
These were no different from the flags that were marched through the streets of our capital only two weeks ago, and whose long wooden poles were used to incur destruction upon our Capitol building with the intent to injure our elected leaders. How different those flags looked that day among a sea of faces distorted by anger and fury, a weapon of chaos and destruction. Only two weeks later, those same flags were restored to a symbol of order and hope.
And so we begin. Some people are elated. Others are wary. Some people feel that our new president’s call for unity has a chance of succeeding if only we can convince each other to try. Others are not so sanguine. Some people are jumping in with both feet to pave new paths to civil agreement — or even disagreement — with the emphasis still on “civil.” Others can muster no more than a “wait-and-see” attitude, standing on the sidelines with their arms folded.
And there are those who insist that our new beginnings will be washed away into a sea of old disappointments. Within a half-hour of the president entering the Oval Office and sitting behind his desk, one news commentator couldn’t wait to observe that the president looked tired. He also scoffed that when the president referred to notes as he listed the bills he was about to sign, he didn’t really know what he was doing. Flanked by four network colleagues, whose silence conceded the right-of-way for the commentator to continue, he prattled on with derision, distrust and ridicule. That was only the first half-hour in.
On other networks, before the newly-elected president had even loosened his tie, pundits were already discussing whether or not he will make progress on his agenda, achieve his promises or work with a deeply divided legislature. These pundits were counting votes on matters that haven’t yet been put on the newly-set table for consideration.
Is the institution of government not similar to any other organization? Is it not impossible for an individual, a household or any institution to tackle everything at once and solve complex problems with immediacy?
Many of the issues facing the president, from pandemic management to immigration, international diplomacy and domestic economic relief, are not new. But the climate surrounding them is — or it could be if we could just step back and recalibrate before we make premature predictions and conclusions.
This is a good time to start at the beginning. We need to examine the content of our issues before we consider the contests they will engender. We must begin by finding the right questions to ask before reaching solutions, which might not actually solve the problems they intend to address. A full representation of constituent leaders must be present in every conversation — whether we agree with them or not — because dissent, by its very nature, leads to rigorous debate. Rigorous debate exacts the highest level of critical thought, and critical thought results in reasoned and nuanced outcomes.
The inauguration is a good time to start at the beginning.
Our reporters, journalists and pundits have an important role to play. We, the public, rely on them to provide us with information. We rely on that information to be responsibly sourced and factual. We rely on them telling the truth — not as they wish it to be but as they indisputably know it to be. We can’t be expected to stand on the same street corner, with some of us thinking that a red signal indicates “stop” but others believing that the red light indicates “go.” We rely heavily upon those who have chosen to inform us to formulate our understanding and fashion our opinions.
But there are still the glimmers of hope, of the role we can play. If you didn’t hear Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Goddard recite her poem on Inauguration Day, do it now. If you did, listen to it or read it again — and again. Many of us have selected our favorite lines from her masterpiece. These are mine:
So while once we ask, “how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe”
Now we assert, “How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”
We will not march back to what was
But move to what shall be a country that is bruised but whole,
Benevolent but bold,
Fierce and free.
The young woman who wrote those words is a leader among the many young people who will carry our flag into the future. She understands that our country “is bruised but whole.” She understands that the way to close the divide is “to put our future first.” Because of young people like Amanda Goddard, I am optimistic that we will not succumb as a nation to our baser instincts. She will lead her generation — and maybe mine and the ones in between and those that will follow — to “lift our gazes not to what stands between us / But what stands before us.”
I have a friend who frequently reminds me when it is a “Shehecheyanu moment.” This week, indeed, we have arrived at a “Shehecheyanu moment” in our history. We are blessed to be alive, to have been sustained and to have arrived at this season of renewal for our nation.
May our flag continue to fly high as the beautiful symbol of our democracy, and may we start at the beginning. Y’hi Ratzon.
Rochelle Ginsburg, educator, facilitates book group discussions for adult readers.