The United States of America now awakens to a new day, a new president and administration, and waits to see if anything can and will change.
After four tumultuous years under outgoing, one-term President Donald Trump — who lost to Joe Biden in the general election last November — Americans, who began their week remembering the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King before witnessing the swearing-in of Biden as the 46th President of the United States two days later, must not only look forward to mending the country, they must also look inward.
Trump unleashed major racism and divide throughout his presidency, so much so, that when insurgents stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6, his supporters carried symbols of hate including confederate flags. Avowed neo-Nazis and white supremacists were publicly encouraged by Trump to “stand by.”
Trump’s base of supporters have come not only from fringe groups but have included members of the military, police and all walks of life.
During his presidency, the world saw the killings of George Floyd and other African Americans by police caught on tape, and Black Lives Matters protests have been filling the streets of cities and communities for months across the country.
The nation has not felt this divided since, arguably, the Civil War years of the 1860s. Back then the argument between states was regarding the legality of slavery. In our current times, so much fragmentation abounds because too many factions only want to believe their own version of the truth.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — who were inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 — and their administration face a multitude of challenges from a sagging economy and continued health pandemic to restoring public trust in its institutions and its direction. There is also a defined sector of the populous who stubbornly believe their election was fraudulent and are willing to violently disrupt the republic.
“Biden and Harris, what they do the first 100 days is going to set the tone for the next four years,” said author and veteran Los Angeles civil rights activist Najee Ali. “Certainly they won the election; it’s indisputable. But unfortunately you do have a segment of Trump supporters who are still angry and outraged, and believing his lie that he won the election and was cheated out of it.
“It’s important that we not dismiss their feelings, no matter how wrong they are. That’s why it’s important at the end of the day that no matter how silly we think their claims are, it’s dangerous to just dismiss it.”
Richard Mathews, president of the North Valley Democratic Club, said with a new administration “I look forward to returning respect and dignity” to the White House.
“The rule of law must prevail. That is the path to unity. We face many crises left by the incompetence and corruption of the last administration — health, economics, environment, infrastructure, racial justice, housing. It is not going to be easy, but we must come together to deal with these head on.”
Mathews, who studied astrophysics at Caltech and also worked in an asteroid search program as an observer at the Palomar observatory, is “especially pleased” to see scientists having key roles in the new administration, including a new cabinet position. “Facts matter. We have to base policy on sound science, not conspiracy theories,” he said.
Reuniting Separated Immigrant Families
The Trump Administration sought to build a federally funded “border wall” between the USA and Mexico, and introduced “family separation” policies as a method to limiting illegal immigration.
But the previous administration led by then President Barack Obama — where Biden served as Vice President — also did damage to immigrants, said Reuben Rodriguez, executive director of Pueblo Y Salud, a nonprofit organization with an office in San Fernando that offers health services, drug/alcohol prevention programs, and is involved in local politics.
Rodriguez said he hopes Biden “will not make some of the same mistakes” of his predecessors now that he is President. Reversing “some of the inhumane practices” that were implemented under [the Trump] administration and [the Obama] administration, he said, needs to happen now.
“Obama was ‘the Great Hope’ that there would be general amnesty and comprehensive immigration reform,” Rodriguez said. “And he had a small window [to do it] when they first had a majority in Congress [his] first two years. But he did not move on it right away — healthcare and the economy became the focus. And he gave in to the forces that wanted more enforcement at the border. More people got deported under Obama than the Bush administration.
“I hope Biden doesn’t turn out to be ‘false hope’ again. There are between 11-12 million undocumented workers already here and paying taxes — and getting nothing in return. There’s a hypocrisy; Social Security will not give the undocumented worker a SSI number even though they have Social Security deducted from their pay. But the IRS will give them a temporary pin number so they can pay taxes.”
The new administration must also “get rid of the cages (holding separated children). Stop dividing families,” he said. “Moving forward, we need to move away from the white supremacists’ belief that one race is superior to others. If there are ‘chosen people,’ every person on the planet is a ‘chosen’ person. We are children of God or children of the universe, depending on how you perceive your existence.”
The Biden Administration starts with a slim advantage in Congress — Democrat’s hold a majority in the House and even though the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, Vice President Harris has the tie-breaking vote — but there are no guarantees of having clear pathways to the legislative agenda they will first bring to Washington, DC.
“I think there is hope for consensus building,” said Boris Ricks, associate professor of political science at Cal State Northridge. “We have figured out over time how to be bipartisan and work together. But, going back to around 2008, we saw an increasingly partisan divide. It created fissures. They were cracks and fragments at first; but they have opened wider because we haven’t yet dealt with the issue of [the causes] of the fissures.”
Those fissures are one of the many things that led to the attempted insurrection on the Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, alt-right extremists and white supremacists, Ricks said.
“We saw what happens when we don’t challenge fiction with fact. We saw what happens when we allow lies to subvert the truth. We see what happens when we don’t say anything when we should say something,” Ricks said.
“The bottom line: words matter, and mean and nasty words matter even more. We were shifting from a nation of democracy toward authoritarianism. That’s scary becauase this shift emboldened some of our perennial nemesis, like white supremacists.”
A Return to Civility
Armida Colmenares-Stafford, an Encino banker who is the chairwoman of United Chambers of Commerce/San Fernando Valley Region and board member and co-chair of the diversity and inclusivity committee for the Valley Economical Alliance, is anticipating “a return to civility” in America.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to ‘unify immediately. But I do think we can be more civil to one another,” Colmenares-Stafford said. “President Trump had a very ‘intense’ personality; people were strongly for him or against him, and they felt so strongly one way or the other that all that passion escalated.
“Society is like a human body; you can get the heart really pumping, but there are times when you need to calm down. I think, with the change of administrations, that will give us the time to calm down and have a slower pace where we don’t talk past one another, but talk with each other.”
She said too many people look at diversity as divisive. “I look at it as a chance to learn from another point of view. We all love this country and want to help people out. It’s how we go about it.”
No matter how you look at it, the Biden administration is staring at a mighty full plate.
“President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have their work cut out for them,” Ricks said. “Their cabinet picks have to be really on point. Their marching orders have to be clear and concise. They have to hit the ground running.
“We’ve experienced darkness for so long, any semblance of light is what we want and we want it right here, right now. Are there going to be lofty expectations? Absolutely. Are these expectations going to be greater than what the administration can deliver? Absolutely. What we have to understand is it took us time to [be in this position] and it’s gonna take some time to transition from this place.”