At noon on this past Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated in a ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol. This was the culminating event in what has been a hostile transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Biden.
The then President Trump had claimed, repeatedly and without evidence, that the election result was fraudulent and “stolen” from him. Regrettably, many of his supporters have yet to acknowledge that this claim was untrue.
Consequently, there was a violent and dystopian siege on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, incited by his “Big Lie,” just two weeks before the Inauguration.
Unexpectedly, on Tuesday night, the then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell affirmed that “… the president and other powerful people,” had provoked the violent attacks on the Capitol building. I am uncertain how firm he is in his conviction.
Fortunately, amidst all that turmoil, the Inauguration proceeded forward, albeit with immense security and what was described officially as a “show of force” in place well in advance of the 20th.
My outlet, in such chaotic and troubling times, has always been reviewing historic accounts of great men and women. I am a fan of the spoken word. A masterful presentation always stirs me.
I’m going to reflect on the Inauguration in this essay; but, first, I’ll share a few written works and speeches that buoyed me during this chaotic period.
In 2005, a self-described “skinny Kid with a funny name” asserted to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference assembly that “the moment we persuade a child to cross the threshold into a library, we’ve changed their lives forever, and for the better.” The then-Senator Obama also said that “librarians are the ones who’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for privacy and freedom. Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.”
Likewise, Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library Director Katie Huffman has noted, “Libraries have long served as stewards of free speech, and we are proud and passionate to be a part of that tradition.”
One of my family’s most enduring favorites is “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame; in which he recounts the adventures of four friends, Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and the irascible Toad; on the river and in the wild woods.
A particularly memorable passage, which is slightly abridged here, occurs when Rat convinces land-bound Mole to step into his boat and enjoy a day on the river.
Rat says, “Believe me, my young friend; there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In them, or out of them, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter; that’s the charm of it. Whether you arrive at your destination, or you reach somewhere else; or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy.”
Memorable Commencement Speeches:
In his 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin, retired Four-Star Admiral, William McRaven, provided this advice to the graduates: “If you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed.”
He added, “You will have completed the first task of the day. That little sense of pride and achievement will encourage you to complete another task; and another, and another. And that will reinforce the fact that even the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things well, you won’t do the big things well.”
Prior to appointment as Chancellor of The University of Texas System, his career included service as Head of the U.S. Special Operations Command; where he is known for orchestrating the mission, and leading the Navy SEAL team that conducted the successful 2011 raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
An international celebrity, and another amphibian, gave the 1996 commencement address at Long Island University’s Southampton College School of Environmental Science. After acknowledging the importance of the environmental sciences in preserving the world’s ecosystems, Kermit the Frog (yes, really!) advised the graduates, “Never lose sight of the fact that you are not just saving the environment; you are saving the homes and lives of so many of my relatives.” He closed his address with the challenge, “You are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp.”
Reflections on the Inauguration:
There were several points in this two-day event at which I felt tears welling in my eyes. Thank you, Mr. President, and Madame Vice President. We needed that.
I have been impressed with President Biden’s religious piety, and his pride in his family’s working-class background. He has experienced great loss in his past. His ability to convert that loss into honest and sincere empathy was demonstrated in his words on Tuesday evening, as the 400 lights around the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool were lit to remember and honor the 400,000 Americans, who have died from COVID-19.
“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said. His predecessor, in contrast, never really acknowledged the tragic loss of life.
In addition, a magnificent illuminated display of 200,000 American flags stood in the National Mall, to honor the COVID deaths. They were also in recognition of those thousands and thousands of people unable to attend the Inauguration in person amid the pandemic, and due to the intense security put in place after the violent attack on the Capitol.
President Biden was joined on the Capitol platform by former President(s) Barack Obama, George W. Bush, William Clinton, and former Vice President Mike Pence along with the former First (or Second) Ladies. President Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who are age 96 and 93, respectively, were unable to attend the Inauguration, but had called then-President Elect Biden the night before.
President Trump refused to attend the Inauguration and bear witness to the ceremonial transfer of power, thus becoming the first outgoing president in over 150 years to leave the city before his successor had been sworn in.
In his inaugural address, President Biden recognized the attempted insurrection, but asserted, “Democracy has prevailed.” He called for Americans to unite and confront the perilous challenges before them:- a deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil and divisions over American leadership.
The then-President-elect had told supporters as he departed from Delaware on Tuesday for Washington and the Inauguration, “These are dark times, but there’s always light.”
My hopes for this new Administration:
The President has promised to use the Defense Production Act and redouble the federal government’s support of COVID testing, vaccine production, and vaccine distribution.
He has also promised that the COVID-relief package passed at the end of 2020 was only a down-payment and that greater relief would be on the way. Keep your eye on the ball, Mr. President.
I hope this Administration will move beyond governance by Executive Order and actually pass some legislation.
Finally, it is time to restore America’s greatness, its dignity, and its world leadership.
This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.
About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.
A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.