Finally, I Can Draw Scenes of Hope Again

It’s a relief to not have to focus on a hateful man anymore

Illustrations: Liza Donnelly

The past two weeks have been emotional and frightening. Between the violent insurrection on the nation’s capital and the threats seeking to undermine the election results, there were plenty of reasons to fear whether the United States would see a peaceful transition of power. But today was joyous. It was a celebration of our democracy and its strength as Joe Biden was sworn in as president. And it was truly a historic event, with Kamala Harris becoming the first woman —not to mention the first woman of color —to serve as vice president.

In 2016, I was fortunate to attend the inauguration in Washington, D.C., and live-draw the event in person for a major news outlet. It was the scene of Donald Trump’s now-infamous “American carnage” speech that would set the tone for his presidency. His inauguration came with a certain tense feeling mixed with confusion. In Washington that day, I saw many very happy people wearing MAGA hats, and I wanted to be happy for them. In fact, I sort of was. But what I knew of Trump did not reflect what I thought our country represented. Plus, I had forcefully supported Hillary Clinton and wanted to see a woman as president. Trump’s inauguration — as his whole presidency — was a frightening, unnerving puzzle.

This year, I had planned to attend the inaugural events once again and draw not only the speakers but all that I saw in Washington that day. I’d reserved a hotel room months in advance and made my Amtrak reservations to travel to the capital for three days to absorb history. The pandemic was a concern, but I knew I would be careful. Then the events of January 6 happened, and a mob of domestic terrorists stormed and violated the U.S. Capitol. Security concerns were paramount for the inauguration, and my family was concerned for my safety. When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asked that people not attend, it was clear. I canceled my reservations.

Joe Biden after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
Left: First lady Jill Biden accompanies President Joe Biden. Right: First gentleman Doug Emhoff and Vice President Kamala Harris at Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
Left to right: Hillary Clinton arrives; Barack and Michelle Obama arrive; Vice President Harris greets her niece with a kiss.
Kamala Harris is the first Black and Asian American woman to serve as vice president.

Drawing in front of a television is not the same, yet the events of the day were extremely moving. It was a beautiful and diverse ceremony that demonstrated that our government is still a strong, functioning democracy. President Biden spoke of healing — something he knows a great deal about — and emphasized working together as a government and people. He had many good moments in his powerful delivery, but one that stuck with me was when he said, “In the work ahead, we need each other.”

President Biden during his inaugural speech.

Today felt like a beginning and an end for me. During the Trump presidency, I found myself getting angry and very worried about our democracy. During his run for office in 2016, I drew him in short pants as a schoolyard bully. I stopped drawing him that way once he became president out of respect for the office.

But in 2020, I felt a need to speak out more forcefully in my cartoons, condemning his actions. I put him back in short pants to reflect the bully that he was. The past four years were a difficult time for me. I am a hopeful person in general, and I don’t like to be mean to anyone in my work. But Trump was frightening. It felt necessary to use my drawings to expose him as the threat he was.

Audience members.

Making the shift now to drawing about the Biden administration will be a challenge but also a pleasure. I’m optimistic that Biden and Harris’ example will help me creatively ease into full-bodied hope. After drawing about hate, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia for four years, it will be a relief to create ideas and positivity. I look forward to getting used to communicating signs of hope once again. Biden and Harris will have missteps, to be sure, and there is still a lot of work to do in our country. But I look forward to drawing progress in race, gender, and international relations.

Poet Amanda Gorman delivered a powerful poem.

Today was the end of drawing a hateful man and the beginning of drawing about a man and woman of hope. And drawing about a country and world that I love.

The new administration pays tribute to the passing military on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.
Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman was a guest.
Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez sang after the swearing in.
Joe and Jill Biden at Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle before the inauguration.

Visual journalist/writer for New Yorker, New York Times, CBS News, CNN. TED, SXSW speaker. Looking to change world w humor. lizadonnelly.com

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