May These Two Days Be as Boring As Possible
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this day of service, has felt less like a moment of public altruism in honor of a legendary American figure and more like a day to rock silently back and forth in your chair, terrified by what the next 36 hours may or may not bring. You know what Monday felt like? It felt like that scene in Saving Private Ryan, where everyone solemnly listens to records and smokes nervously while they wait for the tanks to roll into the village.
I’ve made that analogy before, but the difference this time, of course: This time everyone’s just praying there aren’t actual tanks.
Wednesday is going to be a day in American history unlike any other, an inauguration of a new president in the middle of a pandemic and only two weeks after a horrifying insurrection attack on the nation’s Capitol. The outgoing president not only refuses to attend the transition of power, but in fact will not admit that he has lost at all. There have been multiple threats not just on Washington, D.C., but on state capitol buildings across the country. There are background searches being done on the National Guard members who are supposed to be protecting us and our new leaders. There is a shockingly high percentage of Americans who truly believe that Joe Biden will not be inaugurated at all, that Donald Trump is going to find some way to hold onto power. It is as unstable a moment for our country that any of us have experienced in our lifetime.
What’s so odd is that what we are hoping for, what we are so desperately praying for, is for the inauguration to be boring, rote and uneventful. This is not an inauguration meant to inspire us, like Obama’s, or meant to scare and menace us, like Trump’s four years ago. The power and importance of Wednesday comes not from any spectacle or soaring rhetoric. All Americans want — and it is important to remember that this is what a vast, vast majority of Americans want — is the dull tradition of one president leaving office and another one taking over, something we’ve done dozens of times without incident, to go on without a hitch. We want to watch it, see that everything is just fine, and then go on with our day. I think seeing such normalcy might be the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life.
And what’s fitting is that this is, essentially, what Biden is promising for his presidency. It’s the central tenet of his appeal; it’s why he won. Biden has a massive amount of work to do, with the pandemic, with the economy, with fixing everything Trump broke, with getting American to have any semblance of being one country again. His presidency will rise or fall on his abilities to pull all that off. But what he represents, with his nearly 50 years of public service and experience and connections to decades of American life and leadership, is to bring politics back to an everyday scale: Something that’s vital and urgent but also not that’s screaming right your in face every day, not something that’s constantly pulsating, not a constantly, unceasing howl for attention. Biden is pushing a boring, normal inauguration because he’s pushing a boring, normal everything. He’s also, even more than that, pushing a basic competence, a reassurance that after four years of chaos and incompetence, the trains are going to run on time from now on. It is all anyone could ask of him. It is all anyone could want of him.
And Wednesday is the first test of that. It also happens to be the ultimate test of that. If Wednesday goes straightforwardly and normally, if those trains run on time, it will be the sign of transition that we need so badly. It won’t fix everything, not even close. But it will be the turning of the page.
And if it doesn’t go straightforwardly and normally? Then God help us all. Until then, I’ll continue to rock back and forth in this chair.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.