By Seth Berkin
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
For many, watching our 46th President be sworn into office was everything. It signified a fresh start, a hard reset for a country that appeared to be going down a very dark path. There are numerous reasons why this is partially true, but it is not to Biden’s credit, just to Trump’s faults. Our country is facing an unprecedented health crisis, rampant racism leading to countless acts of violence, and an economic state that is teetering on collapse to name a few of the problems President Biden will set out to solve. He has the next four years to determine whether or not he is America’s savior, and I for one have my doubts.
As I write this, I can’t help but gaze across my bedroom at a framed quote I have from first grade. The assignment was to write what your dream is, simple and open to interpretation. My quote reads, “My dream is that there is no weapons in the world.” Questionable grammar aside, I am proud of this quote. It represents the fear that I have always had and still exists in our culture, the fear of violence.
My personal experience with violence began at a young age. Growing up Jewish in Rockaway, New Jersey (a majority Christian hometown), I faced discrimination disguised as playful banter from those I considered my closest friends. I wouldn’t bat an eye if five of my friends were Sieg Heiling when I entered the room or laughing about how funny the Holocaust was. This was the norm. At college, I was faced with more of the same when my freshman year roommates insisted on hanging a Donald Trump baseball jersey in our dorm living room. I went to school in Pittsburgh intentionally, in pursuit of a more progressive and loving environment than I was accustomed to, but the nation we inhabited was growing more and more hateful by the day. Next year, the Tree of Life shooting occurred.
As a white man, it is unlikely that I will ever be targeted in an act of violence. A cop will never shoot me instinctually, I won’t be raped because of my appearance, and to an extent I am protected by a bubble of privilege. This is what I believed before the Tree of Life shooting took place. That day served as one of the biggest reality checks of my life. In my city, the one that I sought for refuge, eleven people were murdered in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history. I don’t blame Donald Trump for the tragedy, he wasn’t the one who pulled up the trigger. However, I do blame him for fostering a mindset in our country that being hateful towards a certain group of people is acceptable. Before he took office, being a white supremacist was not a point of pride that was excused by our leader. It is his fault that young children across the country believe there is nothing wrong with being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or xenophobic. At the end of the day, you can carry all of this hate and prejudice in your heart and still become the most powerful person in the country. That is the example that President Trump established for our youth.
My immediate family has a group chat that we use to share important information, nostalgic photographs, and keep each other posted about our lives. When news broke that Donald Trump Jr. tested positive for COVID, both of my parents and brother agreed that he deserved it and they hoped he would die. I didn’t respond. This seems to be the impact that he has on America. Trump has polarized this country so much so that we subconsciously resort to violence and anger. Violence has never been a solution, nor will it ever be.
The Tree of Life shooting served as the needle to pop my ignorance bubble. I will admit that beforehand I was not as concerned about the state of our country because in the back of my head I selfishly always thought that I was protected. That is no longer the case, as being aware of the current state of the country has undoubtedly made me more sensitive to the daily struggles of minorities in America. For those who are minorities, it only makes sense to be afraid. For the past four years we have been abandoned by our government, silenced by our leaders, and ignored during our cries for equality and justice. I expect President Biden to listen to the American people, to heed the advice given to him by the intelligent individuals around him, but that is not enough. He needs to be aggressive in introducing progressive policies that benefit the American public, yet I anticipate he will only serve as a band-aid to cover up the wound that Trump inflicted, without curing the injury itself. Biden claims to represent the Democratic party but appears to be too concerned with losing moderate support to pass any legislation that would make a difference for those who need change. Progressives requesting policies such as Medicare For All will likely have to wait for a politician who is willing to take risks, as Biden already appears to be more concerned with his approval rating than the 417,000 Americans who have already lost their lives from COVID-19. Americans no longer have the luxury of waiting, we need our government to be better. As Biden tries to “unify our country”, America will continue the facade of being the greatest nation on Earth, while other countries laugh at our incompetence to pass ‘progressive legislation’ that in reality are basic human rights.
My greatest hope with Joe Biden taking over is that he can realign the priorities of the American people, and eradicate the hate that has overridden our ability to love. He has a lot of work to do, and I recognize that the hole Trump dug him into will not be an easy one to escape from. That doesn’t mean he gets a free pass, nor does it mean that we should compromise to the idea of, “at least he’s not Trump,” when he doesn’t perform. Donald Trump did not set the bar for our President, and being a slight improvement from his ignorance should not be tolerated. Additionally, Kamala Harris needs to be held to the same standard. Although she is inspiring to a generation of young women and people of color who want a career in politics, she must be held accountable for her discriminatory acts in her past. Tokenizing her purely because of her appearance accomplishes nothing, and if she is not actively working to improve the lives of minorities she has wronged previously, then she is not doing her job.
America can have their sigh of relief because it’s nearly impossible for things to get worse, but considering Biden’s track record he is not a reason to rejoice. I will be cautiously optimistic for the next four years because America has lost its way. While Joe Biden may not necessarily be the compass to guide us back, he is a start.
Seth Berkin is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh from Rockaway, New Jersey. He is currently studying marketing and creative writing and expects to graduate in April of 2021. In his free time, he likes to play basketball, write fiction, and make music. Seth is actively producing and recording his own original songs, and plans to release them in batches over the course of 2021 under the name “Seth.Wav”.