In this week’s episode, I speak with Meaning What’s producers and co-hosts Sean Ang and Christopher Scott McNeill about the contemporary history of presidential inaugurations—specifically, what their choices of performers saw about the commander in chief taking the oath that day. We also discuss the inherently nationalist nature of the ceremony itself, and the ways in which contemporary events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the MAGA insurrection might change our views on such events as a nation.
Hanging over our conversation was the inescapable fear that, sometime between turning off our mics and releasing the episode, something new and terrible would happen. As of Wednesday evening, though, the United States remains almost eerily calm. A second attempt at insurrection from the fascists who now control the right-wing of America never materialized, and one of our proudest quadrennial ceremonies carried forward functionally unchanged.
“Democracy has prevailed.”
I can’t shake the feeling that, as historic and hopeful as it was, this day was also the perfect encapsulation of our next great challenge as a nation: fighting complacency. One of our greatest ills has always been our inability to meaningfully and productively face the worst parts of our collective self. The normalcy of today was newsworthy because it has been absent for four years. Biden and Harris are phenomenally qualified in their own rights, but the bar could not possibly be lower; if we accept our historic “normal”—unfettered, unregulated capitalism built upon systemic racism and the denial of basic human dignities—as good enough, then we will be back here before we know it. Democracy did not prevail today; it simply survived.
I want to be clear: the normalcy of today should neither be ignored nor should we resist our urge to celebrate it. Our job now is to make sure that the lessons of the past administration to not go unlearned. I am not pessimistic about this particular challenge; we are finally having the conversations we need to have at the scale we need to have them to ensure this happens. If we can continue those conversations—and continue to hold the powers that be to account—we might just manifest the lofty vision of ourselves as the nation Thomas Jefferson first laid out in the Declaration of Independence almost 245 years ago.
Embrace the hope you feel today. Tomorrow our work begins again.
Thanks for listening,