Updated: Jan 31, 2021
“Today we celebrate one of democracy’s core attributes: the peaceful transfer of power. And every day we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution: the rule of law; equal protection for all under law; the freedom of speech, press, religion — the things that make America America. And we can gain strength from reading our history and listening to the voices of average Americans. They always save us in times of strife.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, who, exactly, is “they”? Who is the “average American”?
Am I the average American, a relatively privileged Asian-American woman who voted for the first time for the first woman nominated by a major party in the U.S. presidential election?
Is the first woman nominated by a major party in the U.S. presidential election the average American?
What about the construction workers who paused their work to let me cross Evergreen Street today to walk to my grandparents’ house?
What about my grandparents, neither of whom speak English but both of whom are legal immigrants to the United States?
Are we all average Americans today, celebrating our democracy?
I have many questions.
I watched Trump’s inauguration this morning with a whirlwind of emotions as tumultuous as the crowds of protesters gathered outside the White House gates.
Senator Schumer, these protesters are certainly your average Americans. And their voices are desperate. You claimed this morning that “whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly held yet fierce devotion to our country, and in our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy and even our lives to making it a more perfect union.”
Well, here they are, sacrificing their time and energy. Here they are, pledging their lives to make this country a more perfect union. Are you listening? Is the White House listening? Is God listening, as each of you who took the podium today so confidently promised?
These are honest questions. I honestly, truly want to know that I have an America to believe in.
And, as the average American fiercely devoted to this country, I will honestly try to put my faith in Trump. I want him to prove those who disapprove of him wrong. I want him to make America greater than it is, because there are so many problems that could use just a little more attention, from all of us.
Because in the end, Trump is an average American, too, elected by other average Americans.
Senator Chuck Schumer is right to point out that we can find exceptionality in our commonality. Cooperative good faith is what we need now, more than ever. Faith in our system, faith in each other.
In his book Assholes: A Theory (yes, insinuating that the White House is either run by or full of politically royal assholes), Aaron James argues that “reasonable hope” is what ultimately holds an asshole-prone, capitalist society like ours together. What’s great about having “reasonable hope,” James points out, is that it does not require quixotic optimism about the future. Rather, “it depends on having good enough reason to support efforts toward reform over the longer haul. When reasons for hope aren’t ‘good enough,’ resignation is justified” (179).
That’s great news, then. Because, according to us, the average American doesn’t just resign, right? You and I would call that being a “sore loser.” A “quitter.” Adding that to our list of “American values” would be pretty embarrassing.
Senator Schumer certainly had enough reasonable hope this morning to make the bold claim: “We Americans have always been a forward-looking, problem-solving, optimistic, patriotic and decent people.”
While I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that we have “always” been that kind of society, or even are that kind of society now, I (and many others, I assume,) certainly prefer that claim to something like “We Americans are sore losers who quit when things get tough.”
So let’s not be sore losers and quit before a new era even begins.
Let’s put our faith in President Donald J. Trump when he says that “we are winners.”
Let’s work together to prove Senator Schumer’s claims regarding the American people.
Because, as average Americans, that’s apparently what we do best.