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HOYT PURVIS: The poet's challenge

Hold Gorman’s words close in perilous times by Hoyt Purvis | January 27, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

It may take time to sort through the presidential election results and discern the most important meaning and trends. There are lessons to be learned, including, importantly, the key roles of education and of the media in righting the ship.

Trumpists and those vulnerable to unsubstantiated claims have been increasingly associated with fringe elements and groups. Others were drawn to the Trump orbit by various wedge issues such as immigration or health care.

It was the Trump style: Focus on divisive political issues, especially wedge issues, ones raised or pushed by a candidate's intent on attracting or alienating an opponent's supporters. Instead of truth at the center of interaction among political causes, factions and parties, the Trump administration gave us fabricated or non-existent numbers and data.

All of this is within the context of the devastating pandemic and the battering attack on the Capitol in Washington.

Journalism and the media are more important than ever. If we have any real hope of upgrading the content and tactics of our elections – campaigns that are often riddled with lies – we need higher standards of civic behavior and information.

Yes, communication concerning politics and public affairs depends on reliable sources -- particularly through the media. In many cases today that means social media – and education. A properly functioning democracy is dependent on an informed electorate.

As we witnessed during the inauguration period and when we saw our battered capitol, we also need decency and diversity, some "Amazing Grace" with Garth Books, and the National Anthem with Lady GaGa, who was definitely seen and heard from. We also heard a patriotic panorama with Jennifer Lopez later on "America" and "This Land is Your Land," written by Woody Guthrie. The theme of this pre-inaugural concert was not celebration but unity, with tributes paid to the frontline workers who have borne the brunt of the covid pandemic.

"This day is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal," said Tom Hanks, who later that evening hosted Celebrate America. Bruce Springsteen opened the evening event with his song "Land of Hope and Dreams." As he stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Springsteen's song reflected the aspirations of the new administration: "Leave behind your sorrows. Let this day be the last. Tomorrow there'll be sunshine and all the darkness past."

Most inspiring was poet Amanda Gorman, 22. She was brave, bold and energizing. It was a remarkable display of strength of character and moral fiber. In her fitting and stirring poem, "The Hill We Climb," Gorman speaks to all of us. She strongly values democracy and writes: "But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated."

She concludes, "For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it, if only we're brave enough to be it, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us." History does have its eyes on us, and the poet's words are words which we should hold close in these perilous times.

The American nation and new president face extraordinarily daunting obstructions. And it is critical that in dealing with them, we have leadership dependent on reliable information built on truth.

Indications are that we are developing an organized, well-planned approach, utilizing science and scientists. We need a hard look at what we face and what we can do. We need plans for dealing with these monumental issues -- something that was totally lacking under the Trump administration, with its haphazard, ill-informed, uncaring approach.

Halting Trump's opposition to global cooperation is a vital step as the Biden administration confronts the hard realities of the pandemic and wedge issues.

President Biden and the United States must deal with daunting challenges, including the coronavirus, climate change, increasing inequality, racism, America's standing in the world and an attack on truth and democracy.

Biden correctly points out that any of these factors would be enough to profoundly challenge us. But we face them all at once as we confront zealots and true believers who disdain international cooperation. However, multilateralism is a critical connection in dealing with today's problems – realities that we can't dismiss.

Gorman calls truth a vital key and writes in memorable and meaningful phrases. Writing on the siege of the Capitol, she reminds us in her stirring and fitting inaugural poem that "this effort very nearly succeeded."

"But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

"it can never be permanently defeated.

"In this truth, in this faith we trust.

"For while we have our eyes on the future,

"history has its eyes on us."

Clearly, as Gorman emphasizes, history does have its eyes on us. But it is also imperative that we look to the future.

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Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at

[email protected]

Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]

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