The return of decency

Screenshot from CNN coverage

I hadn’t meant to cry, but I couldn’t help myself. There were so many moments to pull on the heartstrings. Watching newly-promoted Eugene Goodman, the officer who had held off a braying mob just long enough to allow senators to escape from the Capitol only two weeks before, accompany Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris to her swearing in. Seeing Ms Harris ‘fist-bump’ former President Barrack Obama in a very socially-distanced way. Marvelling as Dr Jill Biden held up a truly huge bible for her husband Joe Biden to rest his hand on as he swore the oath of office. Hearing Latina songstress Jennifer Lopez yell out in Spanish, “Una nación, bajo Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos!” (“One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” – the last line of the pledge of allegiance to the stars and stripes flag). Listening to Joe Biden’s soothing speech offering the chance to heal to a nation still reeling from the after-shock of four years of a divisive, erratic, tyrannical presidency.

America is back!

Trump breaking with tradition and refusing to show up to the inauguration turned out to be for the best: the day wasn’t about him, and we could enjoy it all the more without his orange mug on camera. Of course, neither Melania Trump, nor any of her doubles, were there to guide Dr Biden through the ceremony, as the Obamas had been for the reluctant First Lady when her husband forgot all about her and marched off in his own haze of self-importance four years ago…

Over on Twitter, thousands of other Brits seemed to be crying too — and not just the women. Men were also admitting that they had been moved to tears by the spectacle of the return of decency to the American political sphere. “And breathe,” tweeted James O’Brien once Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. The relief was palpable.

An American who goes by the soubriquet ‘The Hoarse Whisperer’, tweeted:

It made me stop and think why I was feeling so emotional watching the inauguration. I have lived, studied and worked in America. Once you’ve done that, you always feel attached to a country, even if you haven’t been back there for a few years. America will remain forever a part of me, so it was natural to feel invested in this moment in that great country’s history. But I have watched a fair few inauguration ceremonies before without blubbing. There was something more at work here.

Then I realised. I was crying tears of joy for America, one of my adopted countries, but I was also weeping bitter tears of sadness for my home country, because we are still cursed with three more years of Britain-Trump. Just think of the damage Boris Johnson could do in that time.

Johnson had been lamentable in Prime Minister’s Questions a few hours before. Johnson had congratulated President-elect Biden on his inauguration, but forgotten to mention Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. The first woman, the first woman of African heritage and the first woman of Asian heritage to be elected as Vice-President. In a way, her election is even more momentous than that of Joe Biden. After all, he’s not the first white men of Irish heritage to become President, even if he is only the second Catholic elected to that office. Yet Johnson forgot her.

Meme by the author

Thank goodness for Keir Starmer, always on the ball, and ready to step into the gaping diplomatic breach left by Johnson, with appropriate congratulations for Madame Vice-President. I have a feeling Starmer and Ms Harris will get along famously together: both lawyers and prosecutors who turned to politics, both driven by a passion for helping the poor and rooting out inequalities, and both married to spouses of the Jewish faith.

As I scrolled through Twitter, gauging the reaction to the inauguration ceremony, the number ‘1820’ kept cropping up. That was the year the continent of Antarctica, the Venus de Milo statue and electromagnetism were discovered. The year The Beagle, which bore Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, was launched, London’s Regent’s Canal was opened and the Royal Astronomical Society was founded. Missouri was admitted to the American Union as a slave state, and Maine as a free state. James Monroe was re-elected as the fifth US President, while in the UK the Cato Street conspiracy to murder the prime minister and his cabinet was uncovered…

But it wasn’t a date I was seeing. It was the number of reported coronavirus deaths for the day. 1,820 deaths. One thousand eight hundred and twenty lives lost. An almost unimaginable number of personal tragedies, as if five 747 planes crashed on British soil on the same day, with a full load of passengers and no survivors.

The shock of it soon turned to anger when I saw the Conservatives issue a self-congratulatory tweet about what a wonderful job the government was doing managing the pandemic. The sheer nerve of it. The bad taste. The insensitivity. One thousand eight hundred and twenty British families grieving, and instead of being humbled and circumspect by his policy failures that have culminated in this bleak, world-beating statistic, our Prime Minister chose to spout propaganda. I guess they don’t teach you that discretion is the better part of valour at Eton.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Tory MPs then popped up, trying to clothe themselves in the words of Joe Biden’s speech. “Unity is the path forward,” tweeted Andrew Bowie. Nice sentiment, but there’s no reconciliation without truth, and we’re still mired in the lies of Brexit. No. There will be no chance of healing while the VoteLeave cabal is in power, raiding the Treasury to enrich their donor-pals, and systematically dismantling our constitution to consolidate their position.

Meme by the author

This too shall pass. That’s what we’ve got to hold on to. Trump got his come-uppance, and Britain-Trump will too, one day. It can’t come soon enough. In the meantime — oh my goodness! President Joe and Dr Jill Biden are such a brilliant upgrade on the previous incumbents of the White House. His dignified wisdom. Her no-nonsense professionalism. I have to pinch myself. Relief, hope, optimism; these are feelings I haven’t experienced for so long. Let me bask in them awhile. I’ll pick up the sword of truth to fight our nationalist-populist prime minister’s lies tomorrow…