January 21, 2021
Presidential inaugurations are typically attended by hundreds of dignitaries, including former presidents, Supreme Court justices, and members of Congress. That does not include the hundreds of thousands of spectators who spill out across the National Mall. This year was different. Instead of massive crowds, a public art exhibition was erected on the National Mall to represent the American people who are unable to travel to the capitol. The display included nearly 200,000 American flags and 400 lights representing the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives to the pandemic. Several prominent people and law makers announced they would not attend due to the pandemic or because of security concerns following a breach on the Capitol building two weeks ago. I think it was their loss.
After the preliminary speeches and invocation, the Biden Inauguration kicked off with Lady Gaga singing the national anthem of the US, the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The lyrics come from a poem written by an amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, called the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. The poem was written on September 14, 1814, after Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large US flag flying triumphantly above the fort during the US holdout and victory. More than any moment witnessed yesterday, this act made me feel more unified and patriotic than I have ever felt.
While some chose not to attend, I found it more ironic who did attend. The caucus members who led the charge to disavow the election, even after the insurrection, were all invited to the Inauguration. While a few declined, most decided to show up. They sat united with the less than 1000 invitees to hear Biden’s call for unity. Three of the more notable quotes I took away from his speech were these. “I will defend the truth and defeat the lies.” “Democracy did not die on our watch.” And finally, that to be a democracy, “takes the most elusive of all things in a democracy, unity.” It has been a long election year.
Thoughts: I have not watched much more than the swearing in during past inaugurations. The crowds, parades, and dinners drug out over the course of hours, culminating in the balls that lasted into the night. That was changed this year. Rather than crowds, the media focused on Biden and Harris as they made the normal rounds to the capitol lunch (presentations only), Arlington and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Biden’s entrance to the White House. Not lost amid the limited pomp and circumstance was the acknowledgement of those we lost during the pandemic. This acknowledgement began with the memorial on Tuesday and continued throughout the day on Wednesday. This was a needed step toward any possibility of unity. Follow the science. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.