Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States offers Americans a moment of reflection amidst the chaos of U.S. politics. Ryersonian reporter and American citizen Frank Quaranta feels conflicted.
As an American living abroad, I’ve found myself apologizing a lot. When I lived in Panama, I’d apologize for Operation Just Cause, the U.S.’ month-long military invasion back in 1989. When I lived in Chile, I’d apologize for the CIA’s role in bringing the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet into power. When I lived in Canada, I’d find myself apologizing just because. But I’m home in Washington now. As I sit and re-watch Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, I am filled with confusion, apprehension and frustration. I won’t apologize for that.
A part of me is confused. Polls suggest the majority of Americans support Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, raising the minimum wage to US$15 ($18.97) and legalizing marijuana. They also suggest a majority of Americans are pro-immigration, pro-choice and pro-gun control (although many express moderate views in all three cases). So, when President Joe Biden called for unity in the opening minutes of his inaugural address, I asked myself, aren’t we unified already?
There are two major political issues that divided the U.S. this past year: the racist policing of Black Americans and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. To Biden’s credit, he identified both of these wedges in his speech. But I find myself asking: who does Joe Biden suggest Americans unify with? The white supremacists? The virus? The two places where he is asking Americans to compromise are the two places where there should expressly be no compromise. Biden’s “shoot them in the leg” mentality as a method of compromise in these life-threatening situations is absurd.
A part of me is apprehensive. In the four years since Donald Trump was inaugurated, I have gone through multiple romantic relationships, dropped out of school, gone back to school, grappled with addiction, lived in the jungle, lost nine kilograms, gained 18 kilograms and started balding. Yet Joe Biden looks and sounds exactly the same as when Donald Trump took office.
Biden’s inauguration was meant to usher in the next chapter of American politics. He remarked in his speech that this moment is the perfect time for America to “start afresh.” At 78 years old, Biden is the oldest president in the history of the United States. Why should I trust a man nearly four times my age to offer a fresh perspective? Joe Biden’s first presidential campaign was in 1988; 10 years before I was even born. He’s been involved in U.S. federal politics for 49 years, nearly half a century.
Those things that I apologize for as an American — Operation Just Cause in Panama, Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile; both of those things happened since Biden became a U.S. Senator in 1973. Of course he did not directly instigate either of those things, but I don’t trust a man old enough to be associated with those events to now lead me through one of the most pivotal times in American history.
A part of me is angry. To make matters worse, I feel like I’m alone in my anger. Just hours after Biden took office, I’ve already seen piece after piece saying nearly the exact opposite of what I feel now. Do the last four years mean nothing? Biden made a point in his address to say that we ought not turn away from those who “don’t get their news from the same sources (we) do.” Is that not in direct contradiction with the narrative journalists have been pushing for the last four years? All of the fact-checks, the debunkings, the calls to arms — were they all bogus? Do we not care anymore now that a guy with a social media team is back in office? I must have missed the memo.
I am confused, I am apprehensive, I am angry, but I am not defeated. I did not stand outside of the White House as protesters were tear-gassed just to forget the issues that drove me there. I did not watch friends and family members catch COVID-19 just to go grab brunch the next day in celebration. No matter what anyone tells you, nothing has changed. But it can if we want it to. I am hopeful.