This column first appeared in Malta Today
There has been a general consensus that, while there were many memorable moments, the person who really stole the show during the Joe Biden inauguration ceremony was the 22-year-old youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman.
Poised and elegant, she recited the poem she had written specifically for the event, The Hill We Climb, in a strong, clear voice, pausing with impeccable timing for dramatic effect with each well-chosen phrase. Who knew that beautiful poetry and flowing words could still move so many people in these jaded, superficial, Internet-addicted times? And yet they did; we were spellbound, realising even as we watched it unfold, that this would be one of those historic moments which would be forever remembered in our collective consciousness.
Now, this is one social influencer I could get behind, for surely, this is exactly what the world needs now. She captured my attention with her self-description: “…the time when a skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of being President, only to find herself reciting for one.”
I was emotional watching the inauguration, as many were, awash with relief at hearing eloquence and watching dignified behaviour again, and finally being able to release the breath I had been holding until I was sure That One had really flown off into the sunset, hopefully, for good. (Just as an aside can the media please stop giving him the attention he obviously craves? He should be ignored unless strictly necessary, so that the flames of the ugliness he stirred up can start to be extinguished).
But it was while watching Amanda Gorman and seeing what a global effect her poem immediately had as people shared their feelings online, that I realised just how much the world really yearned for her simple yet powerful words. The moment was made even more significant because of her young age, representing a hopeful future and what type of world we want to live in. For, when you think about it, human beings are nothing without hope to cling to.
She managed to precisely capture the upheaval in the US of the last four years with the lines…
“We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.“
And although the poem had already been written, she added the following verse following the events of 6 January:
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded, but while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated in this truth.
Her words could really apply to any country, especially our own, which can definitely relate to the divisions sown by those who seek power above country; those who feel that democracy is expendable as long as they get their own way.
Amanda is also a symbol of those who straddle different worlds and who do not feel they ‘fit’ in any one mould or stereotype. In an interview in 2018 with Adeel Hassan of The New York Times, she said “I grew up at this incredibly odd intersection in Los Angeles, where it felt like the Black ’hood met Black elegance met white gentrification met Latin culture met wetlands. Traversing between these worlds, either to go to a private school in Malibu, or then come back home to my family’s two-bedroom apartment, gave me an appreciation for different cultures and realities, but also made me feel like an outsider. I’m sure my single mother, Joan Wicks, might describe me as a precocious child, but looking back in elementary school I often self-described myself as a plain ‘weird’ child. I spent most of elementary school convinced that I was an alien. Literally.”
First Lady Jill Biden learned about Amanda when she saw her performing an original poem at the Library of Congress when she was just 18 years old, and eventually contacted her about writing an original poem for the swearing-in ceremony. This fact alone, to me, encapsulates, the type of administration the US can look forward to having for the next four years. For these are the telling gestures and behaviour of leaders (and their spouses) who appreciate and believe in the Arts, culture and education. These are the things which elevate the tone of not just what happens in America, but which ultimately have a ripple effect on the whole world, not least of all our own tiny island.
If we needed any further proof of the global influence of the US due to the immediacy of social media and how quickly news (from real news to fake news to trivial non-stories) can go viral, we only need to cast our minds back over these last few years. Does what happen in the States really affect us that much? Yes, you bet it does, and anyone who does not think so, really needs a reality check.
Now, more than ever, the whole world needs to re-adjust its settings, so to speak; to reset and reboot, to re-align itself with what is genuine and true. We must stop giving so much attention to frippery, frivolity and vapidness which does not enrich our minds but merely seeks to dumb us down even further. This is not to say that we cannot enjoy ourselves on harmless entertainment, but by now we should have learned the hard way that those who lead are not there to entertain us with their outrageous comments but to uplift us and show us how we can be better people. For really, what is the point of having a leader if he or she does not show true leadership, setting an example in the way they speak and behave? If they are going to act like anyone else, then what is the point of having them in the first place?
Biden’s own speech, of course, was the best example of how a leader should deliver an oration. Measured and dignified, spoken in a reasonable voice without any histrionics. The more I hear him speak the more I realise that, despite my initial misgivings, he might be just what everyone needed at this precise moment in time; a soothing reassuring calmness, an appeal to people’s sensibilities and the best in human nature, rather than the worst. I almost wept in relief at hearing sanity being restored again. Not to mention courtesy, etiquette, adherence to protocol – yes, all these things do matter for they make us civilised.
We do not need buffoonery. We are tried of listening to lies, stupidity and ignorance being put on display and cheered. Let us bring back respect towards the experts and claw ourselves out of the bottomless pit which continues to insist that, “everyone is entitled to their opinion”. Yes, we are all entitled to have an opinion in our own living rooms, and we can spout rubbish to our drinking buddies to our heart’s content, but in matters of expertise and especially science, I’m sorry but the opinion of Joe Bloggs does not count for much.
When one applies all this to what is happening locally, there are also many parallels. I for one am so tired of politicians who blab before they think. Yes, Robert Musemici I am referring to you and that condescending rigamarole about female candidates. To quote his exact words, “what Robert Abela can do is identify girls or women who are charming and without a lot of pretensions whom people love, and urge them to contest”. (Li jista’ jaghmel Robert Abela huwa li jidentifika tfajliet jew nisa simpatici bla hafna pretensjoniniet u li jhobbuhom in-nies u jhajjarhom johogu).
I think the poor man may have got politicians confused with geishas. What’s worse is that he just would not back down but kept defending what he said relentlessly and tediously, complete with dictionary definitions. I think what Robert Abela should do is to draw up a list of boys and men who are capable of admitting they are bloody wrong and urge them to contest. As an added bonus they should also be given a crash course called “How to realise when I should shut up and just stop talking”.
That would certainly bring about a refreshing change to the political climate.