January, from my point of view, is the cruelest month. Or certainly the most anticlimactic. The gifts have all been opened and the holidays are over. If you’re still watering your Christmas tree – we do well into the month – you feel as if you’re promoting a lost cause. It’s as if you can’t quite relinquish December and the buildup and excitement synonymous with that tinsel hung and holiday-lighted month.
New Year’s Day hardly compares to Christmas. For me it feels like staring down the barrel of a gun. You don’t know what challenges the next twelve months will bring. And the weather, at least in these arctic realms, doesn’t give much cause for encouragement.
Except this year. This year is completely different. Apologies if I betray my political stripes but it doesn’t feel like the start of an ordinary year but potentially a new age. Perhaps I’m setting myself up for disappointment. The country is probably more riven than at any time since the Civil War. The virus still reigns. Millions remain out of work and at risk of losing their homes and savings.
I’ll resist the temptation to use the light at the end of the tunnel metaphor. But mostly because it feels, at least in the political realm and President Trump’s fake electional fraud claims not withstanding, that we emerged from that tunnel into the sunlight when the election was called on November 7th. Was it any coincidence that the sky was cloudless and the weather unseasonably warm?
There’s usually a point in superhero movies where the forces of darkness are running amuck, where James Bond seems certain to meet his maker, where Superman’s nemesis is raining Armageddon while handing out pardons to his fellow villains.
O.K. So that’s still happening. But on Wednesday, January 20th, Inauguration Day, it all stops. It’s called Inauguration Day for a reason even though it rarely lives up to its hype. We’re ushering in one administration and, at least in the case of one-term presidents, giving the bum’s rush to the other.
But this time feels slightly different. It’s the part of the movie where Batman or Wonder Woman might still be sprawled on the sidewalk but the antidote is starting to work and his or her super powers to return. Joe Biden is the antidote. The super powers are America’s once and future greatness.
I know I’m sounding naïve. The nation is seriously broken. Nothing is going to improve until there’s structural change, first and foremost campaign finance reform, and given the complexion of the Supreme Court that’s not going to happen any time soon.
But the Biden administration can quickly put us on the road to recovery in two ways. It can view the planet’s atmosphere and resources as something to be cherished rather than exploited. It can treat all living things with respect, whether they resemble us or not.
It can treat kindness and decency not as something for dopes and sissies but as proof of confidence and strength. It can replace chaos, no matter how good the ratings, with competence. Most importantly, because it’s the existential Gorilla Glue that keeps societies, at least democracies, from spiraling out of control, truth must be treated as sacred.
Inauguration Day already feels like the Fourth of July. The debate we’re having in our family is whether to celebrate it in New York City or upstate? Friends and family who were in the city when the election was called told me it felt like they suspect Paris did when it was liberated in 1944. The joy and unity were palpable.
My daughter happened to be at the Brooklyn farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza when she was seemingly the first person in the vicinity to receive the bulletin that Biden had officially won. She walked outside the booth where she was shopping and shouted the news.
People started to applaud and the crowd to grow – first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. The revelers included a brass band and Senator Chuck Schumer. In just about any other situation I’d prefer to be upstate. But there come pivotal moments in history, when – to plagiarize Abe Lincoln – we need to refresh our bonds of affection. In person.
Obviously, a pandemic acts as something of an impediment to comradeship, let alone carefree partying. So chances are we’ll remain safely ensconced in the woods. And glued to the TV. The greatest act of patriotism at the moment is to stay healthy and not to jeopardize the health of others.
But wherever we are and no matter the weather it will mark a new day, a moment to make not just America but to help make the planet great again.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com
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