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Who’s American Dream? Thoughts on the inauguration

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By Kelly Rae Mathews

“When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows.” — Frank Herbert

“You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.” — Robert A. Heinlein

As I live streamed the inauguration, I was immediately struck by the weight of such a public ritual, of its symbolism and significance. The cameras focused on various senators, congress members, judges and other white house staff as well as on former presidents and their partners. Occasionally, the cameras cut to the crowd of “regular” Americans attending the ceremony. I noted that among the “regular” crowd, there were practically no people who weren’t white at this particular inauguration.

I watched as the people who ostensibly make the policies that determine who America will trade with, go to war with, sanction or woo, parade themselves in a spectacle of national pomp before my eyes. Everyone was civil, even regal. The lack of civility happened off camera in the plainer discourse of social media.

I read comments filled with schadenfreude joking about Hillary’s facial expressions and how hard it must be for her, while others remarked on her display of class. No one else seemed to notice she was wearing her trademark white suit, which seemed a respectable symbol of resistance to me. I was shocked to see Ivanka and Tiffany Trump also sporting white pantsuits; was this a wee bit of upstaging?

A small amount of tension was released when Michelle Obama walked over to where George W. Bush and Bill and Hillary Clinton were standing, and faces lit up. I could tell they were glad to see Michelle. She made what might be the most iconic side eyes in American history, expressing with her smile something that couldn’t be said aloud during a “peaceful transfer of power.”

Even viewed on screen, Michelle felt like a unifying force for good and peace. Even Donald Trump gave her a quick kiss. I experienced surrealism when the phrase “peaceful transfer of power” was used up to and throughout the ceremony.

I wondered if Trump, now entrusted with more power, would seek to unify our country in his inaugural speech after all the vitriol. Many Americans don’t trust him; they feel he is a racist, a bigot, a sexist – and yet he is the leader of this country. Sociologist Anthony Giddens claims that in order for social systems to function, there must be trust. On the other hand, it has been argued that a healthy level of skepticism and distrust of leaders is necessary for liberty to prevail.

As I watched faith leaders make statements from a public platform about our nation following God, I heard a distinct message of strength and power come through like the roar of lions. When Trump finally gave his speech, I was not surprised at his message. It was much of what he’s said at his rallies, only more succinct. After calling the Obamas magnificent in handing the White House over to his administration in a peaceful transfer of power, Trump then went right to the core of his goals. He declared that neither Republicans or Democrats had America’s best interests at heart and that his goal was to give power back to the American people, that we would always rule and govern ourselves. Interestingly enough, he said some of the same things as Bernie Sanders, up-ended to suit his own and his voters’ dream of America.

In an astonishing move, Trump mentioned how every child from Detroit to Nebraska is given the same rights by God. He came out and essentially said that God is the ultimate authority. In many ways, this was a brilliant move because it will give people the sense that even Donald Trump is humble before someone. Many, however, were disturbed because they felt this remark was a violation of keeping church and state separate. Many feel that political leaders should not express faith in public, and that Trump’s speech was nationalistic.

We know from history what happens when nationalism and religion go hand in hand.

In his speech, Trump encapsulated a Golden Age of America to be brought in by ensuring our borders are secured and U.S. industry is maintained by U.S. laborers. He talked about railroads and even mentioned the space program. Trump’s speech writers produced a strong, hard-hitting message, written to appeal to all as well as inform us of the administration’s plans, in case there was any doubt. This is how Trump plans on leading this country: with strength and might, to reform it in his own image of greatness according to the civic religion of America, the American Dream.

This fits right in with the metaphor of the “City on a Hill:” America as a lamp to all the world. So now, Americans, who are your gods, in this great city on the hill? What are your dreams for America? Consider who is exiled and thrown out of the dream. Who is not allowed in such a holy city, who is unseen, rendered non-existent? Who is cast as an enemy of this dream?

These are thoughts to hang on to in the years to come. For if you do not recognize this as your dream of what America should be, then it’s time to dream for yourself how you will shape America.

Kelly Rae Mathews

About Kelly Rae Mathews

Kelly Rae Mathews grew up in culturally and faith diverse San Diego, Calif. during the 70s and 80s before moving to Spokane in 2004. Growing up in a such a diverse environment with amazing people, led Mathews to be very empathetic and open to the insights of many different faiths, she said. She loves science fiction and this also significantly contributed to and influenced her own journey and understanding of faith and values. She agrees with and takes seriously the Vulcan motto, when it comes to faith and life, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations." Therefore, it is no surprise she has a degree in anthropology as well as English. She has studied the anthropology of religion and is knowledgeable about many faiths.

She completed an anthropological research project on poets of the Inland Northwest, interviewing over two dozen poets, their audiences, friends, family members, and local business community who supported the poetry performances. Mathews gave a presentation on How Poets Build Community: Reclaiming Intimacy from the Modern World at the Northwest Anthropological Conference, at the Eastern Washington University Creative Symposium, the Eastern Washington University Women's Center and the Literary Lunch Symposium put on by Reference Librarian and Poet Jonathan Potter at the Riverfront Campus.

She was a volunteer minister in San Diego for about 10 years while attending college and working in various editorial positions.

Her articles, poems and short stories have appeared in Fickle Muse, The Kolob Canyon Review, Falling Star Magazine, Acorn, The Coyote Express, The Outpost and Southern Utah University News.

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