Columnist Sara Weinberger: Inauguration won’t signal a ‘whole new world’

  • The Capitol is seen as security preparations continue at the Capitol ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sunday, Jan. 17, in Washington. AP

Published: 1/17/2021 9:36:21 PM

On Wednesday, many Americans will breathe a collective sigh of relief as we prepare to welcome back science, compassion, ethics, decorum and a sane president.

When we wake up on Wednesday, however, we are not waking up to a whole new world. Almost three weeks ago, Americans closed the door on 2020, only to be confronted six days later with a white supremacist takeover of Congress. We sat glued to television screens, witnessing insurgents rappelling the walls of the Capitol, looting Nancy Pelosi’s office, beating police with hockey sticks, bats, and crutches, while gas-masked legislators huddled together, fearing for their lives.

When the memory of this national shame begins to fade, we must not let ourselves be fooled into believing that when the Trump era ends, his minions will return to the rocks they crawled out from under in 2016, and all will be right with the world.

Donald Trump is leaving the White House, but he leaves behind 139 Republican representatives, and eight Republican senators, who sowed the seeds of rebellion by attempting to invalidate an honest election, even in the wake of an armed insurrection.

These elected representatives, who swore to uphold the Constitution, spread lies and conspiracy theories in order to cement their white supremacist agenda. They tried to destroy our democracy and as of now, they continue to keep their positions as legislators. Lest we think that Democratic control of Congress will thwart their obstructionist plans, remember that Mitch McConnell is a master of the filibuster, and will use it to attempt to kill legislation that subverts the Republican agenda.

The Republican Party is adept at organizing, and elements of the party will stop at nothing to take back control of Congress in 2022, with an eye toward reclaiming the presidency in 2024. While we savor the sweetness of victory, we must remember Biden’s razor-thin victory in many key states. Without Trump’s gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, we might have been faced with the nightmare of a second Trump term.

I am heartened by all the arrests made after the Jan. 6 riots, but the many charges of “disorderly conduct,” and “remaining on restricted grounds without lawful entry,” ignore the reality of a militia-led insurrection. This was not the first act of homegrown terrorism in this country and it won’t be the last. The Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Boys have thrived as the foot-soldiers of Trumpists, just as the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazis, and other hate groups have promulgated terror throughout American history to maintain white supremacy.

The Biden administration needs to dedicate itself to defeating domestic terrorism, including holding those who commit acts of sedition accountable, even if they hold elected office.

The White House will be occupied by people with the best of intentions, but what of the media, the police, the lawyers and the corporate moguls, who will continue to give a nod and a wink to the enemies of democracy? Will we continue to have two systems of (in)justice based on skin color? Will we enable hate-mongers by dismissing them as weirdos, losers, and rednecks, denying that, like Hitler’s Nazis, they are everywhere, from the hills of Appalachia to the hallowed halls of Harvard?

The origins of white supremacy in the U.S. go hand-in-hand with the colonization of this country. Our economy was and continues to be built on the backs of people of color. White supremacists experience the changing demographics in this country as a major threat to their power and status. When people of color make gains, white supremacists organize to reclaim their hold. They spread myths of racial inferiority and accuse Jews of conspiring to lift up Blacks in their quest for world domination.

The defeat of Donald Trump, and the elections of Rafael Warnock and John Ossoff to the Senate will likely result in a backlash by white supremacists to reclaim the country that they believe they are entitled to reign over.

The pandemic of racial and religious hatred has outlived Hitler and will outlive Trump. Decades ago, as I walked down a street in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio, a truck drove slowly down the road, its open bed filled with American Nazis dressed in fatigues, waving a swastika flag. I remembered that frightening scene again on Jan. 6, in a photo from the Capitol of a man dressed in a T-shirt, emblazoned with the words, Camp Auschwitz. I recoiled at this image, remembering my paternal grandparents, aunts, and uncles who were murdered in Auschwitz.

On Wednesday, I will raise a glass to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but also commit to preserving democracy. Amnesty International implores us to, “ ... take one minute out of your day to contact your governor and mayor. Demand they denounce white supremacists, prohibit firearms in Capitol Buildings and public spaces, and take special measures to keep communities safe from violence and armed intimidation by white supremacists.”

Inauguration Day is just the beginning. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” — Bernice Johnson Reagon

Sara Weinberger of Easthampton is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at

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