CNN Opinion contributors react to the most memorable moments of Inauguration Day. The views expressed in these commentaries are their own.
SE Cupp: Did that really just happen?
Was it all just a dream?
As I gathered my family to watch the historic swearing in of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the occasion took on a surreal feeling. There were Barack and Michelle Obama, looking like they hadn’t aged a day. And there was George W. Bush, elbowing hello to his old friends. And the Clintons, who in some ways, never seem to have left Washington DC.
It was a throwback to an earlier era, an era before “American carnage.” Gone were the anger and division. No one suggested America needed to be made great again. The air of fraught anxiety had lifted. Even the US Capitol building didn’t show the scars of its insurrection just two weeks ago.
If not for the masks, and the modest number of assembled guests, it could have been a scene from a decade ago.
It was almost as if none of it really happened. Except, of course it did. The last four years have tattooed a trauma on so many Americans, and it won’t fade overnight. There’s healing to do, and Biden has a long journey ahead. But at least for an hour or so at the United States Capitol, there was finally a much-needed respite from the madness, the moment of demarcation that will forever be 2020 – nostalgia for the before, and hopefulness in the after.
SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator.
Van Jones: We just hit the biggest reset button in history
On Inauguration Day, we witnessed the triumph of American democracy.
This month we’ve seen two very different symbols in the Capitol. On January 6, we watched insurrectionists strut through that building with the Confederate flag.
Now here we are. Just two weeks later, Kamala Harris got sworn in as vice president – the first woman and third person of color to do so.
So, whose century is it? Does it belong to the people who are trying to recapture something they’ve lost? Or is there something new happening?
I believe it’s the latter.
Are there cracks? Absolutely. Is there division? Of course. But let’s be clear: we just hit the biggest reset button in history. After four years of horror, America just got a gigantic beauty download. And beauty matters. It heals.
Every person in a position of power knows they’re talking to a different country today than they were yesterday. And for those who spent the last four years spewing nonsense, they know they can no longer do it and get away with it. They feel constrained by what they just saw, and the fact that – from Silicon Valley to Black voters in the South – this country stuck together. We want something different.
Today we heard our President, Joe Biden, speak from the depth of his soul. There was not one part of his speech that didn’t feel like medicine. He acknowledged and honored the cry for racial justice, 400 years in the making. He reached out to young people and people who are suffering. He promised to be a President for all Americans.
Best of all: while this Inauguration is historic and full of firsts, the day has felt refreshingly normal. After surviving the past four years, boring is the new thrilling.
Van Jones, a CNN host, is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice organization
Jill Filipovic: ‘If only we are brave enough to be it’
It was an inauguration like none in living memory. There was a big first: The first woman, first African American and first Asian American was sworn in as Vice President. And there was a stark challenge: to inaugurate a new president at a moment of profound national vulnerability, after our democracy barely survived a domestic attack and when over 400,000 Americans did not survive a deadly virus.
President Joe Biden met the challenge.
Watching the pomp of the inaugural tradition, I was struck by the new meaning carried by the same words we hear every four years. When Lady Gaga performed the Star-Spangled Banner and sang, “and our flag was still there,” my heart caught in my throat — what a thing to take for granted, that our flag would always be there; what a call to gratitude, to note that yes, even after a mob tore down the stars and stripes and tried to replace it with the banner of an authoritarian, today, our nation’s flag flies.
We did not have a peaceful transition of power. But we did transition from an administration that ruled with vindictiveness, cruelty and prejudice to one that leads with sincerity, optimism and openness. Yes, inaugurations are performances. But this one told the world that while America was bowed by the Trump administration and by attacks from his supporters, we remain, as inaugural poet Amanda Gorman put it, “A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
As Gorman read her extraordinary poem, “The Hill We Climb,” she embodied the best of America: “A skinny black girl, descended from slaves,” she said, who dreamed of being president and was on stage to inaugurate one. A young woman who understands that this nation was not made perfect, but believes we can make it better. As the relief and ceremony of today recedes and the real work begins, her final lines offer a kind of North Star to orient us as we walk out of the darkness:
There is always light.
If only we are brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it.
Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Scott Jennings: I’m a Republican and I’m glad for today
As a conservative Republican, I am under no illusion that I’ll be happy with most of what Joe Biden does as President. A few of his expected executive orders and appointments have already given me great concern that his calls for unity are just words to cover up an unwillingness to say no to the more fringe left elements of his base.
But as an American, I am glad for today as it showed, ultimately, that our system held. It was strained, particularly in the last few weeks by Donald Trump’s disgraceful handling of the post-election period, but we now have a new President, a new Congress and a chance, as we do every two years, to begin anew following a free and fair election.
There is relative equilibrium in Washington, with a tilt to the Democrats. Despite not controlling anything, though, Republicans do have an important role to play in guiding the country’s future. There is an urgent need for both parties to unify over two things: distributing the coronavirus vaccine to as many Americans as possible, as fast as possible, and standing against the scourge of political violence.
These are crucial matters. We can’t get back to normal life in America unless we get the vaccine to her people, and our democracy will be further imperiled if we look the other way when anyone – anyone – participates in or incites violence as a means to subverting the will of the people. We are all in this together, and that means accepting that our electoral system produces winners… and losers. It is an urgent matter for all Republicans to hear this message: we lost, but we can win again as long as we let go of the conspiracy theories that have driven too many people absolutely bonkers.
I wish President Joe Biden well and pray for his success. And I hope for a Republican Party that becomes a loyal opposition and presents itself as a viable, responsible governing alternative in the coming elections, even as it helps President Biden tackle the clear and present dangers to the American way of life.
Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor and Republican campaign adviser, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.
Roxanne Jones: ‘Joy comes in the morning’
“This is the first time in four years I’ve felt like wearing red, white and blue,” my neighbor Pat, a daughter of Kentucky, told me as we watched the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris together.
I know exactly how she felt. For so many years now, I’ve been angry at America. Ashamed of my country. Disgusted at the unrelenting hate and ignorance many of us have spread around the world.
But watching the inauguration today, I had so many reasons to be happy and full of pride for my nation. I’m proud of the record numbers of Americans who turned out to vote, despite the deadly risk of Covid-19. Proud to see Vice President Kamala Harris, our first woman and first Black Vice President.
Watching record numbers of Black Americans who when confronted with unimaginable horrors and injustice, refused to be intimidated and who instead, used their power to sway the presidential election – that makes my heart proud. Together, we even shifted the balance of power in the US Senate. We stood up, spoke up, ran for office and convinced our allies and people around the world that Black lives must matter. That equal justice must matter.
Today a majority of Americans rejected the politics of White power and insurrectionist ideas. And for the first time in four years, I’m comfortable sitting down with my White neighbor from Kentucky and singing “Amazing Grace” together with hope in our hearts for America.
“Weeping may endure in the night, but joy comes in the morning,” President Biden said, quoting from the Bible, in his inaugural speech.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “