Inauguration Day

Dear Hope Nation,

I am an American.

Today is a holiday, although not one that involves gifts or candy or days off work. Before the pandemic, it did involve parades of a sort, or at least large crowds. Today’s quadrennial celebration will be different in appearance, but not in substance. On Inauguration Day we don’t simply recognize a new president, we celebrate the peaceful transfer of power. Think of it. Today at noon the most powerful man in the world will peacefully pass on that power to his successor. No matter who you voted for, no matter whether you were elated or devastated by the election results, at midday today the office of the president passes peacefully from one politician to another.

Four years ago, I was in a different place. I was running a small nonprofit providing transitional housing for formerly homeless veterans. On the morning of January 20, 2017, the television was on in the living room at the house. Typically, the TV was off during the day, but I’d okayed it being on for the inauguration. Some of the guys were sort of kind of watching the festivities, but no one was super excited, and who can blame them? Super Bowl pregame shows are tedious and boring, but at least there’s a game at the end of them. Inauguration “analysis” is typically a bunch of the new president’s cronies bragging about how smart they were, the opposition party’s representatives chattering about the challenges the new president will face and a couple historians will remind us about poor William Henry Harrison, who spoke for two hours in bitter cold at his inauguration, contracted a cold and died a month into his presidency.

We had a case manager at the time, I’ll call her Millie, a very intelligent and qualified young woman. She’d worked hard to develop supportive relationships with the guys, and had done a good job. I liked her. The previous November, Millie and I had talked about the election, and I knew she was not happy about the result. As I recall, Millie was working that Friday from noon to 8. Millie was a conscientious employee and always got in 15 or 20 minutes early. When she walked into the living room and saw the inauguration, she walked across the room and turned the set off, telling the guys they knew the TV stayed off during the day. Before the guys had a chance to protest, I signaled to Millie to join me in the office. There I told her I’d made the decision about TV because of the historic nature of an inauguration.

“But he’s going to be a terrible president,” she protested. “He’s a racist and a sexist and a xenophobe and a . . .”

I cut her off. “You may be right, but that doesn’t change anything. Every single one of those guys raised their right hands and said they were willing to die for this country. Part of why they took that oath was the peaceful transfer of power. Today is a celebration of that. No matter who is being sworn in.”

The TV went back on and we all watched President Trump’s American Carnage speech, an inaugural address unlike anything before it. I believed at the time America was in for four years of “unlike anything before it” and I believe I was right, for good or ill.

In my adult life, I’ve seen President Carter pass the power to President Reagan who passed the power to President Bush who passed the power to President Clinton who passed the power to another President Bush who passed the power to President Obama who passed the power to President Trump. Today at noon, that power is passed to President Biden.

Please keep him and our country in your prayers.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith

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