That big ppfffffftt you heard on Wednesday was the world starting to breathe again, as the inauguration of President Biden took place without riotous QAnon crazies, outrageous Twitter messages, or an Anwar Sadat style assassination. All of which were very much on the cards and, in truth, would have been met with a general “thought that might happen” sort of vibe. Please give thanks, to whomever or whatever you thank for such things, that the general sense was that the ceremonies were traditional, almost boring.
That the status quo was being shaken was evident in two special ways – the inauguration of Vice President Harris, and the poem written and recited by Amanda Gorman. However, these were not flouted or exaggerated, at least not by the Canadian media I was watching, but rather simply reported. The commentary included statements like “oh by the way, not only is she the first African American in the post, she’s also the first ‘she’.” As if that wasn’t one of the most amazing things, especially given the age of the President. And then, the kicker that summed up the past four years:
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
I hope that schools across America, and indeed around the world, have added “The hill we climb” to their curriculum. Those of us in education have spent many years talking about cross-curricula learning – well, a critical reading of that poem would give the class a platform to discuss history, geography, politics, English language, social studies, civics, science … one could build a whole integrated curriculum unit from that poem alone.
Now that sanity has prevailed, and news will once again be distributed though policy documents and regular briefings rather than manic rantings on social media, we can give our heads a long and collective shake and watch the new President move on to some of the other things which need to concern his administration. There are many of those to keep him busy! But of course, action on none of these issues will be successful unless he can somehow bridge the partisan divides which exist in American politics. I fear that the shadow of the Past President is going to be hard and dark for a long time to come.
Indeed, it’s hard to keep writing this blog without dipping back into the well of outrage which has been accumulated over the past four years. I have an urgent desire to start sentences with “Do you remember when he …”. I am going to try to resist that urge, and instead look forward. Where do we go from here?
Personally, I’m looking forward to visiting America again. I’ve had my own private boycott going for the past four years, one exacerbated but not caused by COVID. I’m sure nobody noticed but it made me feel better. I’ve always tried to avoid authoritarian states and after the last inauguration I determined that I could not, in good conscience, travel to a country under such leadership. I’ve avoided conferences, holidays, and even flights requiring stop-overs, and as a result have missed seeing many friends and colleagues over the past while. I’m hopeful that once our current travel restrictions ease, and the longest unmilitarized border in the world is reopened, then ‘normal relations’ will resume. There are lots of great places I’d like to visit.
Until then, there are six issues on which I hope to see new leadership from the United States. Although conceptually clear, these issues are experientially incoherent. Each one has so many sub-sets of challenge, so many degrees of risk, so opaque a policy lens, that it is almost impossible to determine what might be prioritized. But we must try.
Actually, I’d like to set this as a task for you, dear readers of this blog. Imagine for a moment that you have been hired as an advisor for the new administration in Washington. You are presented with a list of six pressing issues, and asked: do you agree with these, or would you substitute one (or more) for something else? If so, what changes would you make? Of the six issues that remain, how would you prioritize them, in terms of urgency and immediacy of action?
The six issues I am putting before you have, of necessity, been simplified. ‘Climate change’, for example, has multiple layers of policy implication, from agricultural productivity to pipelines, from weather events to windfarms. I recognize that I have collapsed all these sub-sets into these six topics which are, in alphabetical order:
- Climate change.
- COVID19 pandemic.
- Economic, social, and racial inequality.
- Global human migrations.
- Militarization of space.
- Political and trade relationships with other nations.
Although I am presenting these as matters of interest to the incoming US government, they are in truth areas of interest to all of us. Every political jurisdiction in the world, from the smallest hamlet to the largest country, is being impacted by these issues, often in very direct and specific ways. I believe that as individuals we have to be part of the solution as well as part of the problem and so, if you are willing to share your thoughts on these things, I would love to hear them.
As a collective the readership of this blog is global in nature, something which truly amazes and humbles me. As such, your ideas and perspectives will ensure that I broaden my own lens to something beyond a Canadian view. You can contribute via the Comments feature on the blog, but beware that this will place your ideas in the full public domain. Or you can e-mail me directly, and if I decide to share anything you write with others (for example, by a summary in a future blog) then I shall do so in an anonymised way that protects your privacy. For those that don’t know it, or have forgotten it which is why I didn’t get a Christmas card, my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a few reasons why I am interested in how you view these matters. First, my general default position is one of intellectual magpie, so I like to collect shiny things like ideas. You never know when they might come in useful! Second, I’ve been asked to write a book chapter that focuses on educational leadership in a time of global uncertainty, and all these matters impact on that theme, so <see first point>. Third, I need provocative things to talk about at my irregular coffee mornings, when I and a couple of friends get together to discuss the issues of the day <again, see first point>.
I apologise to those of you under severe lockdown restrictions who’ve forgotten what it’s like to visit with others, but here on the Island we still have cafes open and we are allowed to sit inside with small groups of friends. We’re probably allowed to sit outside as well, but right now it’s minus fifteen Celsius, so nobody does. That’s the downside of winter. But that’s another blog.