“It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.” -Barry Gibbs
Last Wednesday’s presidential inauguration capped a remarkable two weeks for our country. In two short weeks, we’ve experienced hatred, division, evil, violence, destruction, horror, insurrection, and sedition. We’ve responded with resolve, determination, defiance, inspiration, leadership, love, democracy, and unity.
On January 6, 2021, Washington looked nothing like Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” A mob descended on our nation’s capitol, defied law enforcement, broke into the people’s sacred edifice, and left death and destruction in its wake. What caused or inspired these seditious acts? Words. On January 6, 2021, President Donald Trump spoke at a rally he organized and inspired and said this to these future insurrectionists:
“After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down. We’re going to walk down any one you want, but I think right here. We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
Former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, now the president’s personal attorney, spoke to the same crowd at the same rally and cried:
“Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked, the ballots that are fraudulent. And if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we’re right, and lot of them will go to jail. So, let’s have trial by combat!”
Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama also spoke at the rally:
“Today, Republican Senators and congressman will either vote to turn America into a Godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed and socialist nation on the decline, or they will join us and fight against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great . . . Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
While mere words alone may inspire insurrection, it is clear that these three men knew the character and potential of the crowd to whom their words were delivered. In combination, these two factors inevitably led to the death and destruction our country experienced on that fateful day.
Last Wednesday, in a bi-partisan event, America inaugurated a new president. The tone and rhetoric were vastly different. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, began the inaugural with these words about soon-to-be vice president, Kamala Harris:
“When she takes the oath of this office, little girls and boys across the world will know that anything is possible.”
Senator Roy Blunt, Republican from Missouri, added:
“The U.S. can only fulfill its promise and set an example for others if we are always working to be better than we have been.”
Shortly thereafter, President Joe Biden spoke to the country for the first time as President:
"This is America's day, this is democracy's day. A day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve. Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy . . . We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed. . .
"On this hallowed ground where just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries . . .
"My whole soul is in this, uniting our nation, uniting our people. I ask every American to join me in this cause . . .”
Biden later promised to be a president for ‘all Americans’, whether they voted for him or not:
"We must end this uncivil war. We must reject a culture where facts are manipulated and or rejected." He then added to cheers from the stage, "Don’t tell me things can’t change... we just swore in the first woman vice president . . . I understand that many Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. I get it. The answer isn’t to turn inward . . . We can do this if we open our souls, instead of hardening our hearts."
After President Biden’s stirring address, a star was born when America’s poet laureate, 22-year- old Amanda Gorman delivered her own composition, ‘The Hill We Climb.’ Here are some highlights:
“. . . And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried, that will forever be tied together victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division . . .
. . . We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole, benevolent, but bold, fierce, and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens, but one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the West.
We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light.
If only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.”
Words are more than elements put together to form a sentence, a paragraph, or a narrative. I believe in the power of words; some might incite and destroy, others might heal, repair, and construct. How we use words to construct these sentences, paragraphs, and speeches going forward, and the actions they inspire, will be the key to our future success as a nation. Amanda Gorman’s remarkable poem is a testament to the power of words as a tool for healing and unity.
Proverb 18:21 says: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Are we speaking to unite or divide, love or hate, build up or tear down, express promise or despair, encourage or hinder? Of all God’s creatures, man is the only one who has been granted the power of communication through speech.
Relationship expert Gary Chapman wrote a powerful book called ‘Love as a Way of Life’ in which he categorizes word choices as being ‘bullets’ or ‘seeds‘. Bullets express feelings of superiority and condemnation; seeds convey feeling of supportiveness and good will. If, in the future, we use our words as seeds, perhaps we can reaffirm the promise of America. Perhaps we can begin to heal, come together as one nation, with liberty and justice for all.
Our new government inherits huge challenges. We must conquer a global pandemic, reverse economic hardship and large-scale unemployment, restore our infrastructure, improve our immigration system, defeat global climate change, repair damaged relationships with friendly nations, improve our justice and law enforcement systems, and resolve racial, religious, and ideological differences. As Joe Biden often says, we must ‘restore the soul of America.’ I am an optimist. I believe in the promise of America. I believe we are better than our last four years and their inevitable culmination into the events of two weeks ago. Last Wednesday was a great start. Together, let’s start dreaming about tomorrow.