A Glance Into the US Political Climate

Through a Parker Lens


Photo credit: Kathy Fang, NSPA

With the new administration comes conversations in the Parker community. Photo courtesy of Kathy Fang, NSPA.

The lead up to the quadriannual American ritual of a Presidential Inauguration was anything but typical. It took until November 7, 2020, five days after Election Day, for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden to be declared the winner. The American people endured more than 60 lawsuits by a disappointed, now former, President Donald J. Trump. Trump convinced a majority of the members of his party, as well as his constituency that the election was stolen and that Trump was entitled to another four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia failed to change the outcome of the election. Rather than accept reality, Trump asked the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” him 11,780 votes,  just one more vote than Biden received, so that Trump could claim victory in Georgia. When that effort failed, Trump summoned his followers to Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 in an attempt to stop the House of Representatives and the Senate from completing the constitutionally required ministerial task of recording the final tally of the Electoral College. While the tally was stalled for hours due to a violent insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters that resulted in five deaths, the final tally of 306 electoral votes for Biden was certified in the early morning hours of January 7, 2021. At long last, it appeared that the 2020 Presidential election was over and the American people could begin planning for the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at 12pm on January 20, 2021. 

  In true 2020 form, the January 20, 2021 inauguration would be different, or unprecedented, just like everything else that was once normal. Although 330 million Americans went to bed on January 19th with the promise of a new political administration within reach, circumstances would fundamentally alter almost every aspect of the event.  The realities of the recent attack on the Capitol and the 25,000 National Guard troops in Washington, D.C. necessary due to White nationalist “chatter,” the outgoing President’s refusal to attend the Inauguration or even acknowledge the President-elect, and the raging COVID-19 pandemic that kept the National Mall completely empty, made clear this would be a different type of celebration. Despite all the differences, there were some comforting similarities to the pomp and circumstance of past Presidential Inaugurals. The presence of three past Presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, affirmed the principle of a peaceful transfer of power. Fashion with symbolic meaning was on display, from the purple tones of nobility and bipartisanship worn by Vice President Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, to the festive jewel tones of the many Bidens and the Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, to the life size dove on Lady Gaga’s dress, to the meme worthy knit mittens of Bernie Sanders. The American flag, and the flags of the five branches of the Armed Services, lined the Capitol and the National Mall to welcome the presidency of Joe Biden. 

Despite the undeniable reality of the transfer of power, there remains a significant number of Americans that are not yet willing to accept Biden’s presidency. For these Americans, who still believe that Trump won reelection by a landslide, Trump did little to provide any meaningful reality check. Rather than attend the Inauguration, Trump held a sparsely attended send off at Joint Base Andrews and flew off in Air Force One for one last flight as President. Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence, who was a target of Trump’s insurrectionist followers, became a bright spot in an otherwise unhinged GOP following the Capitol insurrection. By first upholding the Constitution and certifying the Electoral College results, and then taking the more traditional route of attending the Inauguration, Pence sent a message to all Americans that democracy was still intact. Republican members of Congress who opposed Biden’s certification also attended the Inauguration and spoke of a new bipartisan government.

The message of the Inauguration was one of hope for a more unified, inclusive, and truthful America. Biden called for an “end to this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” When asked if Biden’s words were enough to unify the country, Upper School History teacher Dan Greenstone said, I think it’s too early to say, but I would guess some Trump voters are pleased by the boring normalcy of Biden. Others of course will be angry, resentful, and convinced that Biden’s not the actual winner.” Greenstone’s colleague, Upper School History teacher Susan Elliott shared a similar view as Greenstone. Elliot stated that unifying the country is a “tall order and it will take a lot more than a short ceremony. That being said, the pomp and circumstance of it all definitely solidified the transfer of power, and I am sure that a small number of people who did not vote for the Biden-Harris administration were moved by it to give them a chance.”  

Despite it being finals week, Parker students were engaged with the Inauguration festivities. Students’ Instagram stories were filled with reposts of Kamala Harris being sworn in as Vice President with captions such as “the first but not the last.” Other Parker students took to their Snapchat stories to share favorite moments from the Inauguration. These favorite moments mostly included President Biden and Vice President Harris being sworn in by Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor. Sophomore Jaritzi Lopez said she “felt relieved because it was the end of a nightmare. It was also great to see the different representations during the ceremony. It felt inclusive.” For Greenstone, the poetry of the Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Dorman, was the highlight. For those willing to give Biden a chance, it was an event that offered something for everyone. Elliot shared that she “loved it when Biden hugged his family in a big group hug. I think it was important for so many people who are missing loved ones and grieving to see the first family’s joy but also their pain. It was a message that we can get through hard things and still find moments of happiness.” 

While Biden’s words of unity and inclusion rang throughout the Inauguration festivities, Americans did not even need to wait until January 21 to determine if those words would go beyond hugs and words and materialize into action. Throughout the Transition, Biden and Harris selected the most diverse cabinet in the history of the United States. Elliott shared she believed “Biden’s cabinet sends an exciting message of inclusivity but also of experience and competence.” Greenstone agreed, saying Biden’s “determined to have a government that represents the diversity and demography of the country. And it’s high time.” Before the sun could even set on January 20, Biden signed 17 Executive Orders focused on matters including climate change, racial equity, economic recovery, and controlling the coronavirus.   

Although these initial steps make it appear that Biden is about more than just appealing political slogans, Parker students are hoping they see Biden’s campaign promises become a reality. “Hopefully President Biden isn’t like his predecessor President Trump and follows through on his campaign promises,” said sophomore Henry Weil. With the two democrats winning the Senate runoffs in Georgia, the Democrats now have the narrowest majority in the Senate possible, a 50-50 tie that would likely go in favor of the Democrats, as Vice President Harris holds the tie breaking vote. When asked if he believed Biden could achieve the goals he campaigned on, Greenstone said “I think he’ll achieve many of his goals, but with a 50-50 senate passing legislation on climate change or guns will be very difficult.” Elliot agreed with Greenstone. “I think he will have a hard time with many of his domestic reforms but I am confident that he will restore our leadership on the world stage. On the domestic front, I am most concerned about DACA recipients and the families at the border and I am confident that Joe Biden will succeed in helping them. On the international stage, I am certain that Biden will restore the world’s faith in our leadership,” said Elliot.

The messages of unity and cooperation between the new President and the Congress will face an almost immediate test with the upcoming Senate Impeachment trial of former President Trump. Biden has attempted to stay out of the conversation regarding when the Senate should convene the trial and whether Trump deserves to be convicted of the high crime of inciting an insurrection against the United States. With the numerous challenges facing the country, it is unlikely that Washington, D.C. will return to the boring business of easy governing anytime soon.