One, At Least For A Day
The air was heavy with cold dampness, and the sky was leaden, even ominous at times, as the potential for rain threatened three hundred thousand people. The seats were plastic chairs, wet from the intermittent drizzle that had been falling since at least midnight; the temperature was in the 40s.
Yuk, you say. Don’t blame you. But you would be wrong. Three hundred thousand Americans were together, with more flowing across the broad expanse of the Nation’s Capitol, the Marine Band was filling the air with the magnificent sounds of brass and woodwinds played to perfection, and everyone was of a mind. We were congregating to observe and to participate in the peaceful changing of the guard as a new president was about to be sworn in. It was the Inauguration.
The way these things work is that all is accomplished by PA announcement; this thundering voice interrupts the informal festivities with an authoritative “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN--” and that festive throng quiets down at once. The whole thing began with several elements of recognition for various folks who had contributed to the inauguration or something else of note, but then they got busy. The children of the Vice President, (the children of the president were absent, not sure why,) the First Lady, the Second Lady elect, the former presidents (including Mrs. Clinton, the only former First Lady in history to also have been a senator, a Secretary of State, and an unsuccessful candidate for President.) There were many more, the sitting Vice President, his wife, and then the entire diplomatic corps and so many others in government service. They filled the stage above us from where the oaths would be administered and the speeches delivered.
We watched as another Hoosier was sworn in as Vice President, Mr. Pence’s jaws knotted and showing the intensity of the moment, then his eyes narrowed just a bit and the corners of his mouth turned down in a move that those who know him will tell you is proof of the emotion that fills him at such times. And in booming voice and with such conviction he finished by intoning “SO HELP ME GOD” with a delivery not just an oath but a declaration. It was the declaration of a man speaking before God but also to God. The power of the moment was beyond description.
Then came the Donald, and it was manifest that the moment had him. He stood tall, recited the oath in full voice, but he too was in the grip of history in all its pageantry as well as its transcendent truth. He spoke briefly, really, less than 15 minutes. The text was more reminiscent of one of his campaign rallies than of a solemn moment when the all try to fill the air with, well, transcendence. Trump has been criticized from every side, but in the end he spoke as he knows how to. He was direct, blunt, and terse. But more, he was committed, earnest and impassioned in the consecration of his cause. And in the end there were 300,000 Americans who spoke with him in raucous celebration those final words, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.
So for those hours it seemed partisanship was set aside—well, sort of. . .we learn early that it is never far away, and the very persons who stood in solidarity on that podium stood there with mental guns locked and loaded, ready in mere hours to commence firing for effect at the new president. But for at least a few brief but glorious hours we were swept back through time and space, the echoes of great men and women and even greater events and circumstances washing over us all. And “WE THE PEOPLE” were together in celebration and commemoration once more.
Photo: Getty Images/Pool