The Colors of the Day: January 20, 2021
French version available via Le Petit Journal. Click Here
If changing the destiny of a country could be as simple as changing the colors and message of a drawing, then words and political actions would not be necessary.
On this January 20th, 2021, the world is eagerly waiting to hear President-elect Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, speak. The world will be listening to others as well: to Father Leo O’Donovan, a former President of Georgetown University and a personal friend of Biden; to Tom Hanks at a prime-time televised program replacing the traditional Washington balls, the world will be looking a photograph to be taken at Arlington cemetery with the new White House leaders posing with George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. America needs to renew with traditional and healthy political beacons.
But the image, its colors, and the promise of a new dawn do not erase the reality: the virulence of the virus—more than 400,000 deaths in the United States alone; the economic and social crisis, the unemployment and fragility of millions of Americans, the damaged institutions and the tarnished image in the world of a weakened America. Could the future Biden Administration find its way through a narrow doorway to offer greater transparency, justice, and humanity? Could the new Administration be on the opposite side of the four years of an unexpected and violent presidency, Donald Trump’s America, whose recent storming of the United States Capitol Hill just as a joint session of Congress was officially counting the Electoral College votes, sums up all the dangers, lies, and tragedies of the past.
The streets of the Federal Capital are protected by 25,000 military and paved with roadblocks and fences.
The outgoing President, just as a sore loser would react, decided not to attend the inauguration ceremony. Trump is not the first leader in American history to not welcome and greet his successor. But it has been a while since it happened. The last time was in 1869 when Andrew Johnson—the first American President to be impeached—refused to greet his successor, Ulysses Grant. Long before Johnson, John Adams had skipped the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, and almost 30 years later, his son—John Quincy Adams—did the same with Andrew Jackson.
The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris follows in every way an unprecedented and original script.
For the first time in U.S. history, a woman—a African-American and Asian-American woman—will be in the second position in power. Harris now ranks first in the presidential line of succession; above all, she has become a decisive voice in a perfectly divided Senate between Democrats and Republicans.
Today, a young 22-year-old poet, Amanda Gorman—and want to be President herself someday, will also raise her voice, possibly to show us the path to follow as Maya Angelou did during the 1993 Clinton’s inauguration. One of Gorman’s poems, published by Assouline in the book Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower, echoes the historical dimension of the day.
Today, everyone’s eyesAmanda Gorman
Are on us as we rise
Of course, the world’s attention will also focus on Biden’s announcement of the new U.S. Administration’s priorities: defeating the pandemic, rebuilding the economy and healing America.
In a conversation with a few friends who had opened their virtual homes to me during lockdown, I asked them what their expectations of this singular day and new political momentum were. Among them, writer Marc Lévy; Vice-President of Longchamp USA, Olivier Cassegrain; the Franco-American President of Tastings, Alexandra Morris; founder of the Festival de Ramatuelle in France, Jacqueline Franjou; gallery owner Eric Mourlot; and Mexican artist and Francophile Betsabeé Romero.
“I am sad and disappointed over what has happened over the past four years, which led to a desperate attempt to overthrow the people of America’s will,” explained Alexandra Morris. “But I believe,” she said, “that after January 20—and beyond—will be a Renaissance and a time of healing for America with an emphasis on words and empathy for others.”
“A new hope,” adds Olivier Cassegrain, referring to one of the Star Wars’ movies. “We are witnessing a saga and thought we had already lived it all,” he says. “But who could have imagined that an outgoing President would be impeached a second time six days before the end of his mandate?”
Moving beyond an administration, which more than 74 million Americans supported through their votes, with a Senate perfectly divided—thus mirroring the split between two Americas, seems to be an impossible mission and a choice to make at the crossroads ahead.
“January 20 is necessarily a turning point,” explains Marc Lévy. “Either American society returns to the path of democracy and learns from the tragic experience of the last four years of this fascist administration to finally cure the diseases this society suffers from—first and foremost systemic racism, American society’s cancer—or else the country is heading towards civil war.”
Could fear dominate hope? Fear of not knowing how to overcome fake news, ideologies, and of being locked in a never-ending day. “My first worry are these millions of voters, potentially rioters, anti-vaccine and pro-gun violent and ‘trumpist’ mad people,” Jacqueline Franjou says.
“I’m not worried about the United States as I understand that the demographics will change things for the better,” says Eric Mourlot, who was born in New York and raised in Paris. “But the end of utopia has come.” For this expert of lithographs by Picasso, Matisse, Calder and Liechtenstein, “The lack of education has superseded America’s beacon, ‘The city upon a hill.’”
From Mexico City where she lives, artist Betsabeé Romero—whose masterful sculptures are exhibited on New York Avenue in Washington D.C.—welcomes the change of the White House’s tenant “as good news, rare nowadays; this a breath of fresh air.” Mexico had marked the Trump Presidency even before the 2016 election. The relationship between the two countries is complex, it has been aggravated by drug trafficking, the issue of clean energy versus oil, and by the recent immigration policy in the United States. “January 20th, 2021 represents the possible development of more humane initiatives,” Romero hopes, “on climate issues or the way America deals racism.”
Upon his arrival at the White House, Joe Biden is expected to present an immigration reform agenda and a timetable for granting U.S. citizenship to illegal immigrants living in the United States.
“The issue at stake is reconciliation,” Cassegrain explains. But to achieve this, he adds, “Everyone has to do its part, on both sides of the aisle.”
How? By forgetting everything how everything has been managed, by erasing lies and fake news from our memories?
“Donald Trump’s election was the one of a rich daddy’s boy in the most repugnant way,” explains Lévy. “It is the ultimate consecration of the theft of all powers by an elite that has been persistently and increasingly claiming them for 30 years and who think they are above the law.”
For the French writer, the solution lies in the application of sanctions and new rules of law. “It is the sanction that has changed centuries’ old culture of sexism. Looking 20 or 30 years ago, no one could have foreseen mogul Harvey Weinstein’s fall.” Yet, Lévy fears that “the Trump clan, the Giulianis, the secessionists and other Ted Cruzes” will go unpunished. “We need exemplary measures, and I am afraid that in the interest of healing the country, there will be a lack of courage to condemn people to the level of the crimes they committed.”
The first impeachment trial of a former U.S. President will take place shortly after the inauguration. To convict Donald Trump will require 50 Democratic and 17 Republican votes. In parallel to the Trump trial, the Senators will have to confirm Joe Biden’s nominees for cabinet positions and push forward the Covid19-related legislative work. Could judicial years ahead for Donald Trump and others pollute the work of the new administration?
“Four years, this is a short time,” says Franjou. “This presidency is going to be a very difficult one. There are international expectations. It is necessary to defeat Covid19 and to restore the economy, to create jobs and reinstate order everywhere, including in the police force: what will happen if we put down Trump ‘the hero’? Won’t we provoke dramatic anger?” the former CEO of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society ask.
Could mediation and dialogue then be the solution between these two opposing groups of people? “Mediation is one of the most difficult jobs in the world and always involves a man and a woman,” explains Franjou.
Precisely, Joe Biden is building a government that mirrors America’s diversity. He voluntarily chose a woman as Vice-President. A few days ago, Harris appeared smiling and wearing sneakers on the cover of Vogue magazine. The photo caused a stir on social media. Not everyone liked this casual assurance, this outstretched hand that seems to say, ‘Let’s talk, my office is open, I’m just like you.’
What if the turn on January 20th was simply a change of tone, a new American dream, an elevation to paraphrase poetess Amanda Gorman? Could there be a place for optimism today?
When America was shaken by the death of George Floyd and the riots that followed last Spring, Leah Pisar, an expert in Franco-American relations and a former advisor to Bill Clinton, referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as follows: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The artist Marion Naufal had then sketched this dismal and sad period by creating an artwork representing the hospital mask supposed to protect us from spreading and being contaminated by Covid19. The mask was wearing the stars and stripes of the American flag. But the mask was left on the ground, it had lost its proud colors, it was torn, and from its wound, drops of blood were falling down. The victims of Trump’s policies on Covid19. The mask remains torn this morning, but a bit of life now springs out of it. It has regained its beautiful colors, the colors of the day.
A drawing is not enough to transform a destiny, but it can allow us to believe in a new America, to help us choose together which is the right turn to take, and to ignite a peaceful dialogue. Could there even be an alternative? Yet, to succeed, we will have to find the appropriate words and political actions. This starts today.