Donald John Trump scuttled off to Mar-a-Lago aboard Air Force One, nuclear codes in tow, some three hours before his term ended at noon EST on January 20, 2021. I watched Kamala Harris and Joe Biden sworn in as Vice-President and President of the United States of America. Then I anxiously counted down the minutes and seconds during President Biden’s speech until the clock struck twelve and we took back the codes and the presidential jet.
The stands erected along the West Front of the Capitol began to fill up. Masked faces, warm overcoats, scarves and hats guarded against the winter bluster. Honored officers escorted honored guests with familiar pomp and colorful ceremony. Three former First Ladies arrived–Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama–resplendent in colors of gems against the sober suits of the former presidents.
The peaceful transfer of power began. Doug Emhoff all but trembled with adoration as he held a pair of Bibles on which Kamala Harris took her oath of office. One Bible she has long treasured; the other once belonged to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Two hundred thousand state and territorial flags stood in proud ranks along the length of The Mall, standing there where so many of us could not. They waved joyously in that breeze, a vision of support and union.
Lady Gaga put the National Anthem in my heart. Amanda Gorham was the sun itself lighting our way up that hill we climb.
It was everything the last four years were not.
The Eyes Offer It
As the cameras panned around and zoomed in, I noticed something else: eyes shining with love, with pride, with excitement, eyes unfathomable with seriousness and awe. These eyes spoke with clarity and truth. Their sentiment was unambiguous. Their message offered an honesty the arranged expression of a face could never attain.
Kamala’s dark eyes crinkled into crows’ feet as she smiled behind her mask. Joe’s eyes were proud and pained as he recognized his triumph, accepted the burden of his victory and mourned his late son Beau. Barack and Michelle Obama looked westward over Washington DC with the knowledge that the job they did well was not yet a job well done. Amanda’s eyes told us that she couldn’t believe “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” had recited her poem not just for the president but for all the world.
The Eyes Hide It
The eyes that had met journalists’ cameras for the last four long years had never connected with my gaze. Those apertures opened only to an emptiness where I expected some kind of presence.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders, she of the Dead Eyes, stood before those journalists and lied expressionlessly about everything. Her eyes were a window to nothing, certainly not the Christian beliefs that she claimed governed her life.
Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called himself with pride the “grim reaper in the Senate.” It was on his desk, under the blinking of his reptilian oculi, that Democratic and bipartisan legislation went to die.
Vice-President Michael Pence gleamed with silver hair and obsequiousness. He knew how to fake attention and tip his head with immense faux-sincerity. Those brown orbs, however, have the transparency of an oil slick on mud.
Javanka cannot generate an expression between them. Political comedian John Oliver is fond of pointing out that Jared Kushner’s botoxed visage simply invites thoughts of violence. Ivanka has been trained up as a brand and not as a being. Her face smiles but her eyes are only for her daddy.
Melania Knauss Trump has a glance that would freeze the blood of a KGB agent. She happily admits that “I really don’t care do U?” The rictus that is her smile, though, can’t scale the heights of the cheekbones that guard her eyes even as she models humanity.
Then of course there are Donald Trump’s hooded baby blues. Closer to cinders than sapphires, more glaucous than cerulean, they are lightless, lifeless, connecting only when energized by adoration given to him or pain given by him.
A New Vision
And, if that is true, we can find hope in the eyes that open wide with humanity above the masks we must wear.