Audacity and Humor Unleashed: Moments from Inauguration Day
What was it about Lady Gaga, Bernie Sanders, and Katy Perry that made such a difference last week? The inauguration certainly featured many poignant moments: the swearing-in of Kamala Harris, the calming speech of Joe Biden, the poetry of Amanda Gorman, and perhaps most of all the setting — the US Capitol in all of its beauty, still standing and dignified, recovering from January 6.
I rang my cowbell on the porch after our new president was sworn in on Wednesday, and my husband banged on pots. “Our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford said over 46 years ago when he became our 38th president, describing my feelings about this inauguration. Huge problems persist, of course, but at least, as President Biden made clear, we’ll be led by competence and ethics.
As reassuring as the formal inauguration was in its presentation, though, I found myself most moved by some of the supporting characters. When Lady Gaga emerged from inside the Capitol on the arm of Capt. Evan Campbell to sing our national anthem, she created an unforgettable moment. Her full red skirt, billowing and trailing on that cold morning, sent an unmistakable message: Go big and go bold. If “America is back,” as many world leaders tweeted that day, it will be because President Biden acts with courage and vision and because the majority of our citizens follow his lead. There’s no room for fear and timidity, as Lady Gaga well knows.
While Bernie Sanders began Inauguration Day as an unassuming elder statesman dressed for the cold, he ended up in a starring role. The image of him seated in a folding chair, arms crossed, wrapped in a brown parka and wearing thick, wooly mittens captured the imagination of creators everywhere. His image appeared on the moon, in The Wizard of Oz, with workers in “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” and in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” The memes made me laugh out loud with more images appearing, it seemed, by the hour. Finally, we could laugh again, as four years of pent-up anxiety broke free. This latest Bernie Sanders meme is what we needed.
The day’s crowning moment came at the finale of Celebrating America, the evening’s entertainment; Katy Perry stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and sang “Firework” as a spectacular display lit up the sky. With her usual passion, she, too, seemed to unleash a moment. The opening lyrics alone capture the feelings of many of us living under Donald Trump’s reign: “Did you ever feel like a plastic bag/Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again.” As the song builds in momentum, however, it becomes one of hope, where Perry — not unlike Lady Gaga — urges boldness, to “own the night/Like the Fourth of July.” The fireworks overhead served only to underscore the intensity of Perry’s message.
Perhaps there’s satisfaction in knowing that Donald Trump could have never commanded the talent that performed that day, including Jennifer Lopez, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and John Legend. Nor could his mean-spirited attitude towards his enemies foster the good humor that arose from Senator Sanders in his chair. No, the stewing rage of Trump’s supporters that boiled over on January 6 is no match for the exhilaration that characterized Inauguration Day — when music and humor, ideas and ideals erupted with joyful audacity.