FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2021 - 12:00am

She blew me away as I listened to her recite a poem at the Biden inaugural. Then she blew me away again when I read through the text of her celebrated poem.

Amanda Gorman is all of 22 years old. Dr. Jill Biden, now US First Lady, took a gamble proposing she read her poetry during a very different, very challenged inaugural ceremony. The young poet laureate delivered beyond expectation.

Gorman, garbed in what one writer described as a coat yellow as sunshine, stole the show. Her words were simple. But she captured the spirit of a very difficult and complex moment for her nation, inviting her people to embrace hope and light by being brave.

To be sure, Joe Biden delivered a perfectly crafted speech using all the literary tools in the box – repetition, alliteration, juxtaposition – to magnify the power of the words spoken by a man not known for oratorical flourish. That is the product of a talented team of speechwriters, the best in the business.

Both that speech and the poem Amanda recited used the simplest words possible. In simplicity there is power.

But a speech is a speech and a poem quite another. Biden delivered a speech that aimed to plumb the soul of his nation. Amanda Gorman read a poem that captured the spirit of this time. One probed; the other flittered.

Taken together, the speech and the poem composed a lovely bouquet. It signaled that the interregnum of crassness, of barbarity and of blatant lying was over. Maturity and insight and civility are back in fashion.

We know that. America’s best culture creators were onstage at the inaugural ceremony and the seamless, socially distanced musical production on the night of that eventful day.

Just two weeks ago, a mob of savage rednecks that grunted more than spoke, assaulted the Capitol in an insurrection with neither rhyme nor reason – nor endgame. On Inauguration Day, those who composed music and wrote poetry reclaimed the stage. There is justice in this universe.

Gorman described herself as a “skinny Black girl descended from slaves” who wanted to be president of the US before she ascended the sacred rostrum to help inaugurate a president who personified empathy. America’s morning has been refreshed by it. Magic spilled from her verse.

In an interview hours after the ceremony and as the nation gushed over the young poet, Amanda professed she knew only words. And words mattered. That is true. Her nation was just emerging from a disgraced presidency where words did not matter, where truth did not matter.

She personified the antithesis to the Trump years America must now try very hard to live down. In her youth, she fully understood the beauty – and the power – of the written word. If Trump was darkness, she is light.

Trump is out, ensconced in some luxurious purgatory in Florida. That does not mean, however, that the toxic politics he embodied is now disabled.

The fringe right-wing groups, nourished by untruths and animated by baseless conspiracy theories, are all still out there. These are the fringe groups Trump exploited for his narrow purposes. Some of their number might now feel betrayed by the leader they thought would never give up. In which case, they never truly understood Trump’s personality and his politics.

Many of these groups, according to those who observe them closely, are increasingly inclined towards violence. This is the reason why American law enforcement agencies identify the right-wing groups an imminent terrorist threat.

These fringe groups are networked through social media and the slew of right-wing media companies that amplify their absurdities. During the assault on the Capitol, a journalist trapped inside the building described the mob as resembling zombies as they spilled through broken windows and smashed doors. That was an apt description of them. And zombies die hard.

The right wing groups in American politics are immune to science, impermeable to common truths and averse to reasoned discourse. They thrive in shouting down contrary opinion and threatening violence against those who attempt conversation. Trying to dialogue with them is as futile as trying to hold a symposium in a zoo.

There are enough politicians in the US who will cynically attempt to commandeer these groups and use them as their base votes, basically recycling Trump’s playbook. For as long as these politicians pander to the illogic of the fringe right-wing groups, they will breathe life to their nonsense.

Seven US senators have filed a resolution to censure or expel Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley for their roles in firing up the mob that assaulted the Capitol. This will be a test of the capacity of American institutions to purge dangerous anti-democratic elements.

Some tried to shame these two senators into resigning in the wake of the failed insurrection. But they have proven to be utterly shameless.

Enough good words were spoken and goodwill expressed on Inauguration Day. But they might not suffice to drastically drain the toxins driving everyday politics in the US.

A new team of experts will run American government from hereon. But they might not be able to turn back the anti-scientific undercurrent that festers.

As America steps back from the precipice marked by the Jan. 6 riot, the new leaders will have to summon new resources and inspire a new type of democratic politics. Should the barbarians reappear at the gates, the political class will have to call in the artists and intellectuals, the poets and the musicians, to defend civility.

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