Presidential inaugurations are always major productions, and this year was no exception. This event was touted as a symbol of success and diversity; Michelle Obama, Jill Biden and Kamala Harris’s monochrome outfits practically broke Twitter. The amazing poetry performance by Amanda Gorman marked her as the youngest inaugural poet in history. Social media was filled with memes of Bernie Sanders and his iconic gloves. Amid all the excitement, it was hard to remember the fear many felt during election week about Trump’s possible reelection. The widespread distrust in American institutions seemed to evaporate. The inauguration ceremony did what it was supposed to do: make us forget the sins of the last president and re-instill a dangerous amount of faith in American democracy. We must not be played for fools by our own government and must hold it accountable for the violence it is capable of.
At its core, the inauguration is a legal procedure where the president and vice president take an oath before entering office. But over the last 46 presidencies, this legal procedure has evolved into a spectacle. Even the inauguration speech, now a hallmark of the event, wasn’t a part of the original ceremony; at the first inauguration, George Washington took it upon himself to address the residents of New York, and ever since then, the speech has become a showcase of triumph. The inauguration itself tends to send a message of goodwill and promise to the American people, acting as good PR for the incoming president.
The inauguration of a new president often symbolizes a shift in the country’s general mindset, reaffirming American’s faith in the country and its values. While many people believe the election fixed what is fundamentally wrong with this country, we should not expect this shift to change the status quo. Even as Biden sits in the Oval Office, there are still people dying at the hands of a broken system, most recently 19-year-old Asian American Christian Hall, who was killed by Pennsylvania state police.
After everything that happened last summer, I would be baffled if people actually believed a new president would lead to any meaningful, structural change, especially in systems that oppress BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. There are so many presidents that have made promises during their campaigns and then harmed minorities throughout their presidency.
Take Clinton and his endorsement of the super predator theory, Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, Ronald Reagan’s economic policies or Barack Obama’s and Donald Trump’s respective immigration policies. These eras all started with a simple ceremony that reinstilled faith in a broken system, but it is time we stop believing every politician that smiles their way into office. Instead, we must keep a critical eye on who politicians actually are when they’re in power. What deals is Biden making? Is he keeping his campaign promises? Who is benefiting from his politics and who will suffer in spite of them? If Trump has taught us anything, it is that we must keep this suspicion of government actions alive or we may fall victim to a tyrant.
History has shown too often that people in power can do more damage than good. So, while celebrating Biden’s win and sharing inauguration memes of Sanders, make sure you stay as skeptical of American institutions as you were when Trump was in office. We must hold President Biden accountable; that is the only way we will not be disappointed when the systems Biden refuses to dismantle — such as ICE or the police — continue to damage vulnerable communities.