THE euphoria, the feeling of liberation from dread and ennui
Even though Non-Trump and Anti-Trump Americans knew that this day would come, still the euphoria of Trump’s departure from the presidency and the White House, only one day after the event, is as loud and boisterous as it also pristine and ineffable. For the boisterousness, Ray Charles’s classic hit song, “Hit the Road, Jack” has suddenly become popular again and it has been recycled in diverse cultural locations, from the late-night TV hosts to new YouTube postings on the Internet. “Hit the road Jack/Don’t come back no more, no more/Hit the road Jack/Don’t come back no more! For the pristine and ineffable intimations that Trump has indeed gone, there is the overwhelmingly deafening silence of Trump’s absence from virtually all the social, cultural and media airwaves of the country. It is like air, toxic and noxious air, going out of a room in which a pervasive gas leak had held unchallenged and unchallengeable dominion. That “room” was virtually every square, every inch of America, from the two huge coastal strips of the West and the East to the vastness of the hinterland.
Here are snippets of my own personal observations, my own testimony, of this ineffable euphoria of life without the overwhelming pervasiveness of Trump in daily life in America in the last four years. The metaphor of addiction comes to mind here, as long as “addiction” in this case is a substance you are not voluntarily imbibing but is being forced down your throat or into your veins. I became addicted to Trump and Trumpism as part of the fare of daily life while hating every minute, every second of the addiction. It is an understatement to say that Trump dominated the American or even world news cycle. He grabbed hold of it and made it a vast, unrelenting projection of his desires, his lies, his megalomania, his hatreds, his phobias. Because he was such a danger, you could not ignore him, as much as you wanted to or even tried to now and then. And now, one day after his departure from the White House he is almost completely absent from the news cycle! He has not completely vanished but the large, oversize space he used to occupy has shrunken to the mini size expanse of a thimble’s infinitesimally shallow depth.
I think here of a short but powerful poem by Bertolt Brecht, the German poet and dramatist who was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In the poem, Brecht graphically describes the mask of an Asian demon, every line and curve of the terrifying visage captured in arresting detail. As you go over the poem and become almost overpowered by the graphic force of the poet’s description of the visage of the demon, you begin to wonder what the poet’s purpose is in investing so much evocative power to the visage of the demon. Then you come to the last line of the poem and Brecht pays ironic homage to the effort it must take the demon to fear and hate humans and humanity so much, this being the cause of the fearsome visage of the demon. I think of this poem and I wonder, in great alarm: was the visage of my inner self, of all our inner selves, transmogrified by Trump and Trumpism into a mask of hate and fear (of Trump) like that on the visage of the demon in Brecht’s poem?
Racism, misogyny and xenophobia without Trump in the White House
It is only one day after Trump’s departure from the White House and already we seem to be in a new order, a new dispensation on race, gender and immigrant status in American political history! A woman, Kamala Harris, is now the Vice President of America, the first woman to ever occupy that post that is commonly said to be only a heartbeat away from the presidency. Moreover, Harris is also an African American and an Asian American, the very first of these communities to occupy this exalted position. In Addition to this, Biden’s cabinet is the most diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality since the first American cabinet instituted by George Washington in 1789. What is more, Biden’s cabinet is arguably made up of one of the most talented group of women and men of any president in modern American history. Thus, it is indisputable that the “revolution” that Biden has started through the combination of diversity and talent will have reverberations in the years and decades ahead that we can only dimly perceive now. All this already apparent only one day since Trump left the White House!
We must set these breakthroughs of Biden on race, gender, ethnicity and immigrant status against the immediately preceding record of Trump as the most racist and xenophobic American president of all time. Before him there were the 7th and 28th presidents, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson respectively, whose racist beliefs and actions were not only very open and blatant but were also ideological, more so than any other American presidents. That is, until the presidency of Donald Trump. Simply stated, no American president has been as openly sanguine about White supremacy and White nationalism as has Donald Trump, the insurrection of Wednesday, January 6, 2021 being the only time in American history that the forces of White supremacy have ever stormed the Capitol in order to terminate the American multiracial and multicultural liberal-democratic order.
It is still too early to say how far and what forms Biden’s presidency will make diversity and inclusion become permanent and valued aspects of democratic governance in America. But already, Biden has set in motion what will almost certainly be a crucial inflection of democracy in America: from now on, it will be multiracial and multicultural or it will not be democratic at all. This is actually true of most of the nation-states of the world at the present time since only a few countries in the modern world correspond to the prototype of the mono-ethnic, monolingual Greek polis of ancient antiquity. If this was the birthplace of democracy, it is time to recall that its “democracy” also excluded slaves, women and immigrants. This might seem to be Trumpian in essence but that is not the case. Biden, not Trump, is the true bearer and probable reinventor of the Greek democratic paradigm if only because throughout its existence, ancient Greek democracy struggled with authoritarian and fascist forces at home and abroad.
The pandemic, one day after Trump’s departure from the White House.
Today, like yesterday when Trump was still in the White House, more than four thousand Americans died of the Covid-19 pandemic. And it is almost certain that another four thousand will die tomorrow. This is by far the highest rate of mortality from the pandemic in the world. Thus, this seems to be about the most apparent – and sobering – manifestation of a continuity between the Trump and Biden “eras”. But that is not the case at all and there possibly couldn’t be a greater distance between Trump and Biden on the issue of the pandemic and its devastating impact on America and Americans. And on this first day of his presidency, Biden has given telling indication of the yawning gap between him and Trump regarding the challenge that the pandemic poses to America and the world. In these reflections, I will touch on two manifestations of this difference, one ritual and symbolic, the other programmatic and practical. Let us deal with the ritual and symbolic first.
Surely, it has to be deeply portentous that the very first thing, the very first public act that Biden enacted as president was a national rite of mourning for the more than 400,000 (four hundred thousand) Americans who have died from the pandemic. The ritual was broadcast on all media of communication and for several hours was uninterrupted by commercial breaks, “breaking news” and/or other diversions or entertainment. All cultures of the world, past and present, reserve a special place for the rites of mourning in the communal or national social calendar. The simple but profound truth behind this pervasive cultural practice is this: if you do not or will not mourn the dead, then you do not or will not respect and cherish the living. No ruler in the contemporary world is more illustrative of this truism than Donald Trump. Thus, just as it seems to most Americans that mourning the dead of the pandemic is the most natural thing in the world for Biden to do, it would have greatly surprised Americans for Trump to have ordered a ritual of mourning for the victims of the pandemic.
The programmatic or practical aspect of Biden’s break from Trump and his era is as great, as crucial as the difference between the two men on ritual and symbolic responses to the devastating impact of the pandemic. This is because arguably, Trump has been the most incompetent and dysfunctional American president in modern times and nowhere was this more expressed than in his response – indeed a nonresponse – to the pandemic. At the height of the first massive tidal wave of the pandemic, he stolidly and mulishly declared that the virus was a hoax and at any rate would soon vanish, go away. As the numbers of the dead increased relentlessly, he was more concerned about the impact of the deaths on the stock market. Above all else, even as thousands of Americans died from the pandemic, Trump encouraged his followers to see his ignorant and bizarre notions about the virus and how to treat it as more important, more valuable than the opinions of and data collected by medical scientists and practicing public health officials. And finally, in the last three months of his presidency, he almost completely stopped giving any attention, any urgency to the pandemic and its ravages.
One day into the life of his presidency, only one day, and Biden has swung into action on all the battle fronts of the war against the ravages of the virus: masking, social distancing, testing, ramping up provision of equipment and materiel for the health workers in the frontline of the response to the pandemic and financial relief for millions of Americans in utter ruin from the economic impact of the pandemic. Vaccine production and distribution under Trump were palpably so ineffectual as to have retarded constant and reliable supply of scientific and technological means of curbing the spread of the virus. But lo and behold, Biden today has – at last! – invoked the Defence Production Act so as to considerably expand the production and distribution of vaccines. This Act, by the way, is usually invoked and activated by a sitting American president during war times. Why did Trump not invoke this Act? Believe it or believe it not, he said it would disrupt market regulation of the production and distribution of hospital equipment and materiel! With his invocation and effectuation of this Defense Production Act, Biden has put it on notice to America and the world that the battle is now joined irreversibly with the pandemic. Nothing, nothing at all, can mark him as different from Trump as this particular intervention. This is as much a matter of hope and faith as it also a matter of completely realistic and calculating deployment of all that America and the world have to overcome the dread of the pandemic. Yes, it is only Biden’s first day after the departure of Trump. But its portents are good and hopeful if only because, like the two other themes I have explored in this piece, Biden is banking on the belief that his success will be every American’s success, the success of every denizen of the planet.
If Biden succeeds in these and other projects of his presidency, this will be recorded as one of the most important “one day” turning point in the history of our epoch. If he fails – perish the thought! – well, the day will be forgotten – as many other days of great changes in the history of our species have been forgotten…
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