It had just started, Bruce Springsteen sang, alone with his guitar, from the “Land of Hope and Dreams” and from the confidence that the believers will somehow be rewarded. He was wearing a winter coat, but that he actually stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a shock. With him in the foreground, the monument with its giant columns looked as ostentatious and oversized as it is, downright misanthropic, in addition to being windswept, yes: ice cold.
The chill intensified when Tom Hanks came into the picture not far from him, who wasn’t wearing a winter coat, but the showmaster’s black suit. So much glamor has to be, one had evidently thought, winter coats for everyone, that is not possible. Instead, Hanks seemed to have smuggled some sort of thermal vest under his shirt, thin but not thin enough to go unnoticed. And so it was clear: This chill architecture in deserted Washington at night was really the place of choice for “Celebrating America”, the inauguration show to rewarm the hearts of Americans after four years of Trump.
Tom Hanks spoke state-supporting words about the even more perfect unity that should be striven for, about the validity and strength of ideals, especially in times of need, strife and pandemics, and about the American’s eternal striving to become a better version of himself.
That was the theme of the gala that Joe Biden had commissioned from his inauguration committee and offered to all networks and platforms to broadcast and stream. It was also the subject of all subsequent speeches up to and including the Vice-President and President. Strictly speaking, it was also the theme of most of the songs, which were then played live or not quite so live, often switched on from other places, from Jon Bon Jovi to Justin Timberlake and Demi Lovato to the Foo fighters.
The show was full of accomplished intentions and messages. And you think: All right.
The message may have been necessary to restore hope to the afflicted country. It may have been healing for the deep wounds that Trump’s presidency had left. It may have been important to show that art and culture and goodwill are back on board in American politics. But it was also paralyzing in its uniformity and expectability. After everything that has been said about old white men in the past four years, should this particularly old white man now unite everyone, regardless of skin colors and identities, should all hope and confidence be the goal? Alright
And as always, when the emotions are massaged too much and the brain remains under-employed, the thoughts begin to wander. So every time you switched back to the Lincoln Memorial you were amazed at the emptiness and the darkness. Only two hand lamps seemed to be available to light up the new president as he greeted him, with John Legend and his piano it was more like a flashlight, with Tom Hanks an occasional circle of LED lights. Behind: night. As if the outgoing incumbent in his malice had also turned off the power of the whole city and only left emergency power generators behind.
At the end of every song and speech, there was a painful lack of people. Listeners, applause, some kind of reaction that could actually have told of the much-invoked unity. Obviously, the pandemic did not allow anything else, every large gathering of people in the picture sends the wrong signal. The emptiness as a signal was also stupid. It created the image of a capital into which no one had been allowed in for fear of rioters who believed in conspiracies, in which only national guards and celebrities with special permission were allowed to move freely. Is this the way to counter the suspicion of being an aloof place for the elite? The majority of American voters, who were somehow necessary for the universally vaunted triumph of democracy – seldom did they appear so intangible and abstract as on this evening.
Was this event also aimed at the 74 million Trumpists in the vast expanse of America?
If you don’t have a White House now, you won’t build one anymore – that was roughly the mood after almost an hour and a half of cold and emptiness. All the optimistic one-stop-shops, in which normal people were celebrated, full of charity and resilience, from parcel drivers to kindergarten teachers to nurses, could do little against it. So it was a great relief that Joe Biden had apparently made it to the White House in the course of the show from the Lincoln Memorial, where he was switched on again live – in the warm salon, in the close family circle.
At least one who doesn’t have to tremble tonight, they thought, while at the finale a white hooded Katy Perry sang her hymn “Firework” and behind her actually a pretty big fireworks display went off over Washington. That too is an ambivalent picture. Quite a few of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump despite everything, would have really liked to see Washington burn that evening. Just right.
Wasn’t this gala basically aimed at her? Did all the evocations of unity and togetherness somehow reach these people? Are they still available at all? You don’t know, you will see. The golden warmth and family cosiness in the White House, possibly also with a crackling fireplace (not in the picture) – but in the end Joe Biden was heartily indulged. There is a lot of work to be done for the man now.