Today, for only the second time that I can remember I watched a Presidential Inauguration. That wasn’t necessarily by design. This is the first inauguration held since I went into retirement. The other inauguration that I watched was in 2008, the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first Black president. I was working that day but the historical moment compelled us all to pause. The office was silent as the staff gazed up at the television and that seminal moment.
There’s a recipe for a Presidential Inauguration. It’s a few parts hope; a few parts pride; a large measure of tradition and there’s always a dash of doubt. When it’s all done it’s topped with an icing of celebration; balls, parades, fireworks, speeches and patriotic pomp and ceremony. A lot of that icing was left out of today’s inauguration. A once in a century pandemic had already forced a change in the formula before the violence and insecurity of recent days forced the nation to leave off a lot of the icing. But just as we jerryrig the cake that turns out lopsided or dry and cracked, we work around the difficulty and continue with the business and the tradition of our Democracy.
Over the past two days I’ve experienced something that I haven’t known in four years – optimism. It started yesterday with a ceremony to honor those lost due to the pandemic. Even before taking office, on the day before their swearing in, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris delivered to the nation something it has not seen in four years. In a short, touching and heartfelt ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool the President and Vice President elect honored the 400,000 lives that have been lost in one short and paradoxically interminable year.
We’ve been gutting out four years of a president for the few. Yesterday Joe Biden took the first step in becoming a president for all Americans. Sadly his presidency for all, started with being the man for the departed; those who the outgoing president hardly bothered to acknowledge or mourn.
This nation has passed through four years of a presidency that’s lacked the grace, humanity, compassion and depth of feeling that Americans and people around the world rightfully expect from the President of the United States.
The words of Vice President Elect Kamala Harris echoed in the chill evening air, the cold reality of the past year in which the citizens have almost literally had to go it alone, abandoned by a leader who cared more about his reelection bid and subsequent loss than for the nation in his charge.
“We gather tonight, a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to the lives we lost,” said Ms. Harris. “For many months, we have grieved by ourselves.” She ended with a statement of unity, “Tonight we grieve together.”
President Elect Biden, a man who has known loss and who’s character of compassion has been formed by personal grief, followed with a few brief words, most poignantly, “It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here.”
At the conclusion of his remarks 400 lights, each representing 1000 departed Americans, were illuminated along the length of the pool.
I didn’t see the ceremony as it happened. I was on the way to a doctor’s appointment and I listened on the radio. When I heard the words of Kamala Harris, I was overcome by a wave of emotion; sadness and yes, anger. “What a waste,” I said to myself. My anger quickly gave way to cautious hope. On that cold evening I could feel a whisper of warmth in the nation’s capitol.