America’s Promise Seems Distant Now, but It Will Be Back

America’s Promise Seems Distant Now, but It Will Be Back
Flags line the National Mall toward the Capitol Building ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Washington, Jan. 20, 2021 (AP photo by Julio Cortez).

America’s longest winter is not yet over. But the inauguration this week of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris should reassure the country and the world that though the promise of American reinvention seems distant, it will come again.

We have arrived at this moment violently, as usual. With baseball bats and long guns cradled in our arms, some of us Americans pulled on battle fatigues, convinced that the war for the soul of a nation could be won with just a little more menace—not just on TV or on Facebook, but in Washington and other state capitols. When that outrage and other tricks didn’t work, Donald Trump’s supporters cast their mind’s eye backward through history, all the way to 1776. Hooked by the Big Lie, they wandered through the fog of American supremacy, dragging the whole country and democracy along with them. All the while, the death toll from the virus spreading through the land rapidly rose, hitting 250,000, then 300,000, then 350,000, and higher.

Out there, distant from each other and grieving, some of us Americans turned a blind eye to the collateral damage, choosing instead to whitewash our political fences. Even as the lines for food snaked down our streets, it became an urgent priority for some to paint over American history, including the evils of slavery and the memory of Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race slave who, after rising up against colonial tyranny in 1770, lay in state at the insistence of the man who would become our second president. In the mood of forgetting, it was made clear through banal repetition and petty bureaucratic fiat that references to 1619, when the first slave ship landed in the British colony of Virginia, would no longer be tolerated in a government by some of the people for some of the people. Imagine the shock when, after 81 million people had spoken on Nov. 3 in favor of a different vision for America, that manifesto fell flat.

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