Relief, hope, and despair

Political scientists and historians will be debating long into the future the significance of what happened on 6 January 2021, when the US Capitol was occupied by rioters or insurrectionists or however you choose to call them. It is too early to assess the importance of this event, and views will be formed and change depending on what follows from now. It might represent the peak of this form of direct threat against the American body politic stirred by Donald Trump and his followers. It might be a foretaste of what is to come. No one knows.

Given this backdrop, it was a relief to see Joe Biden inaugurated as the 46th president without any of the doomsday scenarios turning into reality. It is perhaps tempting to argue that such worries were overblown and unwarranted. Now that the inauguration has taken place, any concern looks very silly with hindsight. However, and perhaps conditioned by what has happened over the past few years, that may be too complacent. The US is deeply divided society and healing that division and bringing unity to the country will be no mean task for President Biden.

Politics is at its best when it is boring, and when political scandals are not huge policy disasters causing enormous damages but personal peccadilloes of politicians. At least Twitter will be a calmer place now that Mr Trump’s Twitter account has been terminated and his presidency by tweets has ended. Another fascinating topic for social scientists is the role of Twitter as an accelerant of political debate. The directness, shortness, and immediacy of Twitter as a forum for political discourse meant events moved and spread very quickly.

If the beginning of Mr Biden’s presidency is a relief, there is a glimmer of hope about the Covid-19 situation in the UK. Nearly 5 million people have had the first dose of the vaccine. The number of newly-reported Covid-19 cases has dropped, even if it remains way too high. Hopefully the vaccine will prove effective against all variants of the virus. If the vaccination programme proceeds well and the lockdown suppresses the number of new cases, there may yet be something to look forward to in the summer.

However such hope is overshadowed by the despair that so many have died from this virus, and there is no consolation for those who have lost their loved ones. It is quite numbing to see the numbers reported every single day in the UK and the worst in terms of deaths is not yet over.