What an extraordinary day! This week's blog is being written minutes after the official transition of the American Administration with the swearing in of 46th President, Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. No doubt, newspapers and columnists commentaries around the world will abound with celebratory messages of hope that the dark days are about to be vanquished and illumined by an era of civility and a revival of America’s international image. That Unity was the prevailing message of President Biden's inaugural address was predictable. He was emphatic that uniting people is the prerequisite to fighting the cascading challenges of extremism and violent forces that divide the nation. His cautious optimism resonated in the pronouncement that this was indeed America’s day to celebrate "the triumph of the cause of democracy". Yet no words, no matter how inspiring as was President Biden’s could disguise the looming shadows of a fractured society with the underlying gloom of over 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 for which the gathering at the ceremony appropriately honored with a moment of silence.
MLK Celebrations: Casting light on Caribbean Leadership and a Stunning Rebuke of White Supremacy
This Inauguration follows the celebrations on January 18 , commemorating the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. Washington Post columnist Colbert King aptly recognizes the significant overlap with the ascension of Kamala Harris as America’s first Black woman and Asian Vice President with Caribbean ancestry. Of significance too, is that the 2021 MLK Global award was bestowed on Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of UWI for his international contribution to social and reparatory justice.
It is worth noting that the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service at the Washington National Cathedral, where Dr. King gave his last sermon on March 31, 1968, four days before he was assassinated in Memphis. This year, the sermon given from the same Canterbury Pulpit on Sunday January 17, 2021 by Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, was a riveting denunciation of ‘white Evangelical bigotry’, ‘American exceptionalism as white supremacy’ and “those who honour the 2nd Amendment and dishonor 2nd Commandment on the road to perdition”. Under the theme, St Paul’s letter to America, mirroring St Paul's letter to the Romans, Dr. Dyson's message is the Roman Road from insurrection to salvation provides options for the reemergence of the American dream that foreshadowed Biden's Inaugural address with bylines:
Rev. Dr. Dyson’s sermon listed under the Resources link on GOFAD's website is one for the ages which we highly commend to your attention. Also for your convenience the link is attached below:
Rekindling the American Dream
President Biden, recognizing the impediments to which Rev. Dr. Dyson referred, urged the nation to move beyond the aberration of the insurrection in the arc of American history. But the President’s optimism cannot as with a wand erase the fact that the American Dream may have long lost its sheen, except, perhaps to immigrants. The rebuilding process will have to deal with the cynicism of competing ideologies. First, to the people on the left, the American Dream is now mentioned only as a lost Golden Age of relative social mobility that was destroyed by neoliberal, anti-worker policies. To those on the far right, the American Dream is one that liberals have taken from whites through all sorts of affirmative action programs and given to racial and ethnic minorities. The subtext of the Trumpian counterrevolution has been, in fact, restoring the American dream, the bright prospects of social ascent, to its rightful owners — that is, to white Americans, and to them only.
The prevailing narrative of white supremacy is itself fodder to dislodging American exceptionalism. This is a major challenge, despite the President's best efforts to revise the stature of United States democracy around the world that had become a convention. Much has changed from the era of American politics in the 1950s, when it was more or less assumed that democracy, that is, electoral democracy combined with private ownership and civil liberties, was what the United States had to offer the Third World. Then, democracy provided not only the basis for opposition to Communism but the practical method to make sure that opposition worked.
Increasingly and mostly over the past four years, the fragility of both the American Dream and American exceptionalism has been exposed. The Fragile States Index by the nonprofit organization, Fund for Peace, shows that the United States is among 20 countries where pressures have grown significantly in the past decade in ways that potentially undermine stability. The U.S. has suffered a stark drop in what the index labels as cohesion, an indicator that reflects growing internal divisions. David Frum argues for Trump’s impeachment for fueling the insurrection at the Capitol, even though this state of affairs predates the last four years in American politics. It rather harks back to a pervasive tendency of stoking mob violence against people of color as typically how rich whites channel poor whites’ grievances away from themselves. What was unusual this time is that the white mob at the Capitol turned on the white politicians, rather than the people of color who are usually the victims. The United States has a long history of mob violence stoked by white politicians in the service of rich white Americans.
Conclusion: From Eloquent Prose to Soulful Poetry
Amanda Gorman the 22 year old Afro American poet, following Maya Angelou's tradition at President Obama's inauguration in 2009, brought a fitting climax to the ceremony by reformulating Biden's hopefulness from eloquent prose to soulful poetry:
Somehow we have weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished
There is always light
if we are brave enough to see it
If we are brave enough to be it
Listen to the entire poem here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp9pyMqnBzk
Rev. Dr. Dyson’s sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYMzTGmY5tQ
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.