AU students reflect on a chaotic and historic transfer of power
Biden’s inauguration comes weeks after political violence at the Capitol
With Black Lives Matter demonstrations, a Capitol insurrection and a second presidential impeachment within a span of four years, now American University students watch as a transition of power occurs from the Trump-Pence administration to the Biden-Harris administration.
While students moved in these past couple of weeks to prepare for the spring semester, many fled D.C. to avoid political unrest following the Jan. 6 pro-Trump attack on the Capitol building.
“I was at home in Lexington, Massachusetts, and I had a dentist appointment that day. I had been following the news all day because I was watching the [Jon] Ossoff and [Raphael] Warnock races,” College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Millie Landis said. “I got out [of the dentist’s chair] and I look at my phone and I see this New York Times update that's like ‘Mike Pence was rushed from the Capitol.’”
Some students were surprised by the lack of police protection despite there being rumors of violence. Pictures of rioters in the Capitol flooded social media platforms, including an image of a man sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office desk.
“Anybody who had been on Twitter could have noticed that that was probably going to happen because it's not like these people were hiding the fact that they were planning to do this,” said Jeremy Ward, School of Public Affairs junior and executive director of AU College Democrats. “So I was actually surprised that more security wasn't put in place, especially considering how security was being set up for Black Lives Matter protests.”
The insurrection led to a historic impeachment of then-President Donald Trump in the days leading up to the inauguration.
“I'm glad he got impeached because I think it's important that a precedent is set. You can’t call on a coup and not have any consequences just because you have like two weeks left in office,” CAS freshman Anna Mowery said. “I think it was important that he had some real legal consequences. Not that he’s been removed from office, so that'll come later maybe in like a conviction, but I think it's important that they made that first step.”
Lily Logan, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, said that she hoped to attend the inauguration, before the pandemic and Capitol insurrection posed barriers.
“On the 6th, I was working in Maryland and I checked my phone and saw all my friends saying you need to get home,” Logan said Wednesday morning. “So today I’m going to bring stuff to work in case I can’t get back into the city.”
Logan said it was disrespectful to the office of the presidency and to Americans for Trump to not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration. The move makes him the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to skip his successor’s swearing-in ceremony.
Along with the transition of power, Vice President Kamala Harris makes history as the first female and woman of color vice president.
“This isn't like strictly symbolic right, like this makes a big, big difference. I was reading something yesterday, like, this is the first time there's going to be someone in the White House who has been told to keep her car keys between her fingers when she walks home,” Landis said.
Donald Earl Collins, an adjunct professorial lecturer within AU’s Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies’ department, described the historical significance of Harris’ swearing in.
“She represents a lot of hope for a lot of women of color, a lot of gen X-ers and for a lot of folks who have ideas about how the country should be represented,” Collins said. “Demographically, she represents a lot of hope, but whether that representation comes out in the form of policy, decision-making and dealing with the events that are going on right now, we don’t know. We’ll come to see how much of a role she plays as the Biden administration rolls through the next four years.”
Noah Burke, School of International Service sophomore and vice president of AU College Republicans, said that he and the College Republicans fully supported the election results, despite Trump repeating election fraud conspiracies.
“They clearly won the election,” Burke said. “I mean there are always small discrepancies in every election, you know it's hard not to in a nation of 330 million people, but never was there anything on this scale that would cause a difference in the results, which is why we followed back in November came out in support of President Biden and Vice President Harris.”
Burke was interning with a Republican congressman the day before the insurrection. He was given the day off on Jan. 6 for his safety as rumors spread about the possibility of violence.
“I was there the day before and could tell you know, something was clearly going to happen, but I wanted to expect just a lot of delays from certain members of Congress objecting to results with very little or no evidence,” Burke said. “But I certainly did not expect an invasion of the Capitol.”
Many students are hopeful that this new administration’s policies will help reduce coronavirus cases and improve the economy.
“Obviously top priority is COVID crisis along with the economic downfall that has transpired with, and I definitely think that they and their team will get that together and then moving on to different other aspects of issues that we have,” Ward said.
Collins said that the racism involved in this election was typical, yet less subtle than in years prior.
“We saw people being told to leave the country because of their brown skin,” he said. “We had people saying ‘Blue Lives Matter’ and ‘All Lives Matter’ as a way to say that ‘Black lives really don’t matter to us’. That ‘your suffering does not matter to us.’”
While appreciating the theme of unity found in today’s event, Collins said that without taking accountability as a nation, the U.S. is far from unified.
“We’re in a place where people don’t want to believe reality,” he said. “That they want their own, sort of white-washed version and want to protect a country that protects the power of whiteness. They don’t wanna live in a reality where that isn’t the case. We need to deal with these realities before we can even begin to talk about unity. We need more than just historical representations of demographics; we need to know what we’ll begin to see in terms of policies.”
Asher Weinstein and Maegan Seaman contributed reporting to this article.