No More Business As Usual — Things Are Ch-Ch-Changing

It’s not every day that a new president is inaugurated in the United States of America. In fact, it’s one of the few national events that effectively punches pause on the entire nation. There are all sorts of traditions associated with The Inauguration. Some have been deliberately fostered; others, deliberately broken.

No matter, the core of the rite is always the same, regardless of the shifting temporal details. The core is a 35-word oath which transforms a president-elect into the president of the United States. Those words, usually sworn on the holy book of the president-elect’s choice, essentially annotate the peaceful transfer of power.

Um, not so much. Or not this time.

Consider this observation from Opinion columnist Bret Stephens who maintains that we have “our own age of mobocracy. The president who got himself elected by summoning a digital mob through Twitter and Facebook wound up trying to reverse the results of an election by summoning an actual mob to Washington.”

He wasn’t alone either. Despots rarely are.

Mr. Stephens again as he parses Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address from 1838. “‘Is it unreasonable then to expect,’ Lincoln asks, ‘that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us?’”

It is just this notion, that an individual of Machiavellian temperament and twisted morality, that has us all holding our breath, Beloved. And make no mistake, we are. Can you feel it?

“Donald Trump is not a man of ‘the loftiest genius.’ He is, as I’ve written before, a political arsonist who managed, in his inveterately asinine way, to burn down his own presidency while attempting to torch everyone and everything else. Neither is Josh Hawley nor Ted Cruz a lofty genius. They are credential-holding ideological grifters who lack the wit to see how easily they are seen through.

“But the three are at least a hazy approximation of what the younger Lincoln most fears — men in the mold of Caesar or Napoleon who would sooner tear down than defend republican institutions in order to slake a thirst for glory. Before Jefferson Davis tore the federal government asunder, John C. Calhoun tried to nullify its power. What rougher beasts do Trump, Cruz and Hawley prefigure? For that matter, for what kind of Reichstag fire was the Capitol Hill insurrection merely a test run?”

Mr. Stephens concludes, “When Joe Biden becomes president on Wednesday, he will face a larger job than ending the pandemic and saving the economy. He will have to exorcise the mobocratic spirit that is Trump’s chief contribution to American politics. Summoning the better angels of our nature in his Inaugural Address would be a fitting tribute to his greatest predecessor.”

While I applaud the comparison Mr. Stephens makes, I think Mr. Biden’s assignment is far simpler. Exorcism is a powerful rite requiring a trained exorcist. Mr. Biden is not an exorcist, he’s a synthesist. He’s able to see how things that don’t seem to go together actually do if we’ll make the choice to look at them that way.

A headline in this morning’s Huffington Post said it all. “Turns out American carnage is not what Trump fought. It’s his legacy.” Mr. Biden is the perfect answer to the divide-and-conquer strategy we’ve been subjected to for Single-Term Trump.

Mr. and Dr. Biden spent an hour working in a food pantry yesterday as their service to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Donald Trump issued his 1776 Commission Report. Among other appalling things, it says, “‘Historical revisionism that tramples honest scholarship and historical truth, shames Americans by highlighting only the sins of their ancestors, and teaches claims of systemic racism that can only be eliminated by more discrimination, is an ideology intended to manipulate opinions more than educate minds, the report says.”

His skill at accusing others of what he himself both is and does is business as usual for the likes of him. And he’s had friends, allies, colleagues, enablers, accountants, attorneys, and senators.

“The report drew intense criticism from historians, some of whom noted that the commission, while stocked with conservative educators, did not include a single professional historian of the United States.” We must be grateful for small things.

New York Times theatre critic Laura Collins Hughes writes this morning, the theatre “respond[ed] to Trump as to an emergency. It largely did not get lured, the way a lot of the media did, into turning its spotlight on his supposedly disenfranchised supporters.” Instead, the professional theatre used its power to turn its spotlight on his continual, egregious thoughts, words, and deeds.

Did you know that the theatre as we know it today started on church altars? It did. The masses couldn’t read so the clergy took to acting out Bible stories. Eventually, they moved from altars, attendance conscribed by the girth of the building, to the stairs out front. It’s the equivalent of moving a show from the Public Theatre to Madison Square Garden.

Theatre is based in ritual, Beloved. So is the inauguration. “The basics of the inauguration are simple: The new president takes a 35-word oath on a date prescribed by the Constitution. The presidential oath of office is also enshrined in the Constitution: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

It’s an oath. A quickie oath, seventeen seconds by my count. That changes everything.

I often quote Anu Garg’s THOUGHT FOR THE DAY from his Word-A-Day email which brings such delight to my email inbox. He usually has one quote, most often from a person born on that particular day. Today he broke his own mold. Just as Joe Biden will tomorrow.

First, from part of Mr. Biden’s formation. “America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me — they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, every faith. They live on in each of us. What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here. That’s what matters. And that’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own. That’s why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here. That’s why our military can look the way it does — every shade of humanity, forged into common service. That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.” Hear and bear witness to the words of Barack Obama, 44th US President (b. 4 Aug 1961).

Now travel back in time with me to hear and bear witness to the words of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 Oct 1869–1948.) “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.” Most tyrants, as we have seen, have accomplices. They fail with the tyrant, Beloved, rest assured.

Critic at large Maya Phillips is moving, so she’s packing, or she’s supposed to be. But you know how packing goes. She’s fallen into a pile of Playbills. You know, those booklets with the yellow and black frame, that are handed out by ushers in theatres everywhere.

Caught in her nostalgic moment, Ms. Phillips writes, “It’s an exquisite tragedy — that every time you see theater, you receive something new, but that gift is immediately chased by a loss. It can’t be replicated. Memory is imperfect. As a critic, I experience productions in a super-heightened state. I try to make sure every detail adheres to my memory — the lights, the movement, the sounds, the scenery. But no matter what, it’s like trying to catch water in my hands. By the time I was heading home, under the punishing lights of an F train car, I’d already feel it slipping, just a little bit, as the world outside the theater poured back into me.”

We are going to the Inauguration tomorrow, Beloved. We are. Regardless of how truncated its form because of the twin threats of the coronavirus and the crowd violence. We’re going. Just like Ms. Phillips goes to the theatre. She goes to bear witness, to be wrapped in the catharsis of the moment, to hold her breath with countless, anonymous others because they are there on the altar of art. Together.

She calls holding a Playbill, “my little act of witchcraft: I thumb through the pages and suddenly it’s resurrected — my feeling at 18, sitting with my aunt in the Richard Rodgers Theater watching ‘In the Heights.’”

We too have been in the heights these last four rollercoaster years and just as much, if not more so, in the depths. Swinging at the tail end of the pendulum of grotesque excesses that have dragged us all hither and yon and beyond.

Ms. Phillips again, “So, I pack up my Playbills for the productions I recall and the ones I don’t. When theater returns, I will accumulate more to shelve with the others and look through them when I’m feeling nostalgic. And I’ll know that even though I may not remember the particulars of every single performance or set, there’s still something precious in the knowledge that for one specific moment in time, something special happened, I saw it, I was there.”

High noon. Tomorrow. The Inauguration, Beloved. Be there or be square.

And we, like the audience for every good piece of theatre, at this specific moment in time, pray together that something special will happen. We hold our collective breath in the hope, the wish, the dream, the dare that perhaps, just maybe, if we all exhale at the same time, and the stars are aligned, and we’re all wearing the right colors, standing on the right street corners, that we’ll graduate from Divide-and-Conquer and take up Synthesis with President Joe as our right and our birthright — and the rights and birthrights of every other citizen from sea to shining sea.

Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection between spirituality and culture. Find out more at www.susancorso.com

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