We watched the Inaugural activities Wednesday on video via laptop, acknowledging that Joe Biden’s clear and measured address set just the kind of tone that America needed after the past four years of tyranny, corruption and chaos.
Although I have covered more than a few inaugurals during my 55+ years as a newspaperman, Amy and I watched one from reserved seats in 1988 when George H.W. Bush was sworn in and promised this nation he would not raise taxes.
“Read my lips,” he said. “No more taxes.”
Then he raised taxes and it limited his term and became the third incumbent president to lose to a challenger in our lifetime when upstart governor Bill Clinton won.
Gerald Ford, who became president when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, lost to Jimmy Carter, who only lasted one term before losing to Ronald Reagan.
Then a fourth incumbent, Donald Trump, fell to Joe Biden, who became America’s 46th president Wednesday while Trump and his family took their last ride on Air Force One to Florida who sulk in their Mar-a-Lago retreat.
Because of COVID-19, line after line of thousands of American flags replaced people in the National Mall in Washington. The crowd on hand were members of Congress, some other federal officials and the gathering of National Guard, Capitol Hill Police and District of Columbia on hand in case another insurrectionist group of Trump supporters caused problems.
I was on the list of backup free-lance journalists on call if needed for a wire service if they thought more would be needed, but threats of more insurrection from Trump supported fizzled, so we watched the festivities in the warm comfort of home.
They didn’t and the inaugation was a lot of pomp and circumstance with a lot more hope and expressed plans for a return to civility in Washington after the past four years of turmoil.
Opined The Washington Post in an editorial:
IF WORDS alone could unify a nation, the United States would have come together after then-President Donald Trump proclaimed, in his inaugural address four years ago, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. . . . When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.” And so, after President Biden’s inaugural address, in which he repeated the word “unity” eight times and portrayed the country as able to accomplish great goals when it acts as one, the public is entitled to ask: Could this time be different?
We would answer skeptics with an emphatic yes. There are many reasons to hope Mr. Biden’s message, delivered with evident passion and no little eloquence, could have real effect. One reason is that, unlike Mr. Trump, he did not contaminate it with rancor about “carnage” and “stolen” jobs, or pit a “righteous” public against an exploitative “establishment.” He instead urged “humility” and asked “those who did not support us” to “hear me out.” Additionally, Mr. Biden approached the inaugural lectern knowing how dangerously Mr. Trump deepened divisions, especially on Jan. 6. His description of democracy as “fragile” was rooted in this experience, which many in his audience lived first-hand. The presence of leading Republicans — former vice president Mike Pence, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) — in that audience was a promising sign, more resonant, surely, than the mean-spirited message Mr. Trump sent by not showing up.
“A president replaced,” wrote Dana Milbank. “A nation redeemed.”
The inauguration of President Biden on Wednesday was more than a transfer of power. In ways symbolic and substantive, it was the redemption of a nation.
Inauguration Day in the capital city dawned to fierce winds, as if Nature herself were sweeping away the pestilence, financial misery, political violence and lies. The winds carried departing President Donald Trump away on Air Force One three hours before Biden took the oath of office — the first time an outgoing president refused to attend his successor’s inauguration since the disgraced Andrew Johnson demurred 152 years ago.
The defeated president departed in typically vulgar fashion: He granted late-night pardons to scores of crooks and cronies after some clemency-seeking felons paid Trump allies lavishly; and ordered a last-minute cancellation of his “drain-the-swamp” ban on former aides becoming lobbyists or foreign agents.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile,” said Biden in his inaugural address. “At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
It was a close call for this country and one we won’t soon forget. The civic unrest of 2020, ignited by calls for racial justice, mutated into mobs storming the U.S. Capitol only two weeks ago, fueled by a desire to subvert the Constitution. Rioters broke out windows and vandalized historic rooms, all while cowering behind the American flag. And while the glass can be replaced, the vandalism scrubbed away, the country’s citizens bear the scars of anger and fear, suspicion and cynicism.
Our volatile history of racial injustice has never been resolved. Instead, we’ve tiptoed around it, whispering and hanging back instead of getting on with the difficult work of defusing it. Over countless generations, we’ve been putting out stubborn fires, professing shock when white supremacy flared up and willfully misunderstanding the difference between grievance and justice. We must contend with these threats.
But on Jan. 20, the American flag flew over the U.S. Capitol, and despite the recent assault on it — regardless of the civic unrest and the political division — it represented the best of us. Its promised meaning resonated more deeply than ever. Once again, the country moved forward.
Let’s hope what we saw in Washington Wednesday will continue. The job ahead will not be easy and obstructionists remain in the halls of Congress, but the the day provided signs that decency and normality might be returning to our government and way of life.