Patriotism Re-ennobled

President Biden masterfully used the pageantry of the day to shatter the self-asserted Trumpian monopoly on patriotism.

Genius isn’t a commonly used descriptor of President Biden, but it’s an apt word to describe Biden’s handling of the Inauguration.  Having bid his time with preternatural forbearance in dignified silence for over two months while the incumbent president took virtually every measure imaginable, including calling upon his so-called “patriots,” to undo the results of a free and fair election, on January 20 Joe Biden finally had his opportunity to articulate (and model) his own view of what patriotism means in the United States. 

Through the rhetoric of his inaugural address reinforced by music and poetry and symbolic displays, President Biden masterfully used the pageantry of the day to shatter the self-asserted Trumpian monopoly on patriotism.  Not only did Biden proffer a compelling humane alternative to Trump’s garish cartoon patriotism, but more importantly he wrested from Trump’s devotees the sole authority to proclaim who counts as a patriot. One might have predicted that twice-elected President Obama, our first African-American president, would have forever embedded into our collective consciousness a more inclusive understanding of patriotism and Americanness, but Trumpism, in its manic repudiation of all things Obama, divided the population into “America First” patriots and those who would destroy the country.

How satisfying it is, then, that President Obama’s two-term presidential understudy, a candidate who was propelled into office by the brilliant and tireless efforts of African-Americans whose political careers took hold in the Obama era, returned to America’s grandest stage to reinstall, and hopefully forever cement, Obama’s more democratic, inclusive, and humane version of patriotism. 

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, General, Government, Joe Biden, Presidency,
Michael Bailey
About Michael Bailey
Michael is Associate Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, GA. His academic publications address the American Founding, the American presidency, religion and politics, and governance in liberal democracies. He also writes on popular culture, and his articles on, among other topics, patriotism, Church and State, and Kurt Vonnegut, have been published in Prism and Touchstone. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas in Austin, where he also earned his BA. He’s married and has three children. He joined OTB in November 2016.

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Truly a brilliant execution of an Inaugural Celebration…and in true jiu-jitsu form, the COVID pandemic was used to make it even better.
    That the liars and racists of the political world are still whining abut being called liars and racists is simply marvelous.
    Genius, indeed.

    PS…if you didn’t catch Lady Gaga’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner you owe it to yourself to go find it on YouTube.

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  2. CSK says:

    Under Trump, patriotism meant “undying and unquestioning allegiance to Trump,” because only he, as God’s anointed, could save America.

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  3. Paine says:

    And Amanda Gorman was amazing.

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  4. Scott says:

    But it has to be followed up. One aspect of BLM marches and protests I noticed (or any modern women’s, environmental, or progressive marches) is the dearth of patriotic symbols, particularly American flags. I have always thought that was a mistake. Back in the suffrage days, the women not only wore white but they carried flags, implying that suffrage was a patriotic right. Too often today, the patriotic symbols get monopolized by the right. The mingling of Confederate flags, KKK symbology, even Nazi flags with the US flag by the extremist right gives Americans the opportunity to reclaim the patriotism that belongs to all Americans.

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  5. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Paine:

    I used to teach public speaking to HS students (particularly prose and poetry, but some other stuff) for competition*. When a judge hears that someone is going to read their own work, it’s always a time to get nervous. Writers are rarely good readers.

    As Poet Laureate, I knew the words would be good, but… Ms. Gorman nailed it on the presentation.

    *For those not familiar: It’s called “forensics” (from “forensic speech“), and is a very big deal in a lot of schools.

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  6. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    ETA: I wonder how many young black women are going to be using that piece in competition over the next couple years? 🙂

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m by nature a cautious optimist. I don’t think you can logically demonstrate that pessimism or optimism ends up being more realistic, but I’m pretty sure optimism makes for a more enjoyable life. But cautious. So, the optimist in me says that Joe Biden, against all odds, may be the exactly right guy for this time. The caution reminds me of the million things that can go wrong. But did I tear up watching that speech and have to suppress a desire to shove my fist skyward? Absolutely.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    Biden and his team are good. One small detail, putting all those small flags on the mall won’t prevent Trumpskyites from doing side by side pictures of the mall and crowing about Trump’s big crowd, but it does put a big, obvious asterisk on it, flagging that there’s a reason. And the lights along the reflecting pool are beautiful, in all senses of the word. Trump mostly got B and C list country performers for his inauguration. I like to picture his reaction to last nights concert opening with Springsteen and Tom Hanks. But they should have let Hanks wear an overcoat.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I side more with whichever lefty blogger said he’s a glass half empty kind of guy, and there’s a smudge on the glass. But as Seth Meyers observed, it feels good to not be grinding my teeth. I woke up this morning and as usual checked news on my phone, but not worried I’d find some new atrocity.

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  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Scott:

    Something I’ve long hoped the left would do is reclaim patriotic symbols*, but they haven’t and it is good to see Biden do it.

    * The left, still seems to be stuck in the anti-establishment ethos of the 60’s and continues to reject the concept of patriotism as a tool of the oppressors and that leaves them open to easy caricature as America hating radicals.

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    A couple years ago some on line individual told me I didn’t know shit because I never “defended” this country and he did. This didn’t sit well with me and I replied that I had quite literally “built this country” (union carpenter) and that what is more so did my immigrant wife who had done everything from flip hamburgers to rebuilding tractor/trailer parts to freight forwarding to ad nauseum.

    I am sick to death of the fake patriotism so many on the right engage in. To the point where I have to admit that at the first women’s march I wrapped myself in the flag just to say, “Fuck you, it belongs to us too.” and yet it felt more than just a little bit as false as when they do it.

    Patriotism isn’t waving the flag, patriotism is making your country better.

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  12. @Mu Yixiao:

    As Poet Laureate, I knew the words would be good, but… Ms. Gorman nailed it on the presentation.

    It was incredibly striking–most impressive!

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  13. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    if you didn’t catch Lady Gaga’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner you owe it to yourself to go find it on YouTube.

    I thought it was marvelous. Indeed, I found it, JLo’s performance, and the signing of the Pledge to be more emotionally impactful to me than I expected.

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  14. LexinLA says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Yes! I mainly competed in policy debate and extemporaneous speaking in high school, but I branched out a bit and competed in Prose and Poetry my senior year. When I watched Gorman reading her poem, that was the first thing to come to mind… That gal would be a superstar in Prose and Poetry in high school speech tournaments.

    So impressive!

  15. DrDaveT says:

    @LexinLA:

    I mainly competed in policy debate and extemporaneous speaking in high school, but I branched out a bit and competed in Prose and Poetry my senior year.

    I did Prose, Poetry, Duet Acting, Humorous, and Children’s Lit. Did pretty well at the local level in Poetry, Duet, and Kiddie Lit.

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  16. LexinLA says:

    @DrDaveT:

    You mentioning HI, DI, and Duet made me remember how much fun it was to catch the final rounds in those events. I loved getting to see all of those once we were eliminated. If I had to choose between going to a final drama and a final debate round, drama would win every time.

    Good times. 🙂