The peaceful transition of power

Today is Inauguration Day – a day when the peaceful transition of power – the swearing in of a new Commander in Chief takes place. Don’t worry. This is not going to be a political blog. It is, however a reflection on the history and tradition of the events of the day.
This day is steeped in tradition; beliefs and behaviors passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. These traditions are what set the tone for this very historic day; they are what keep things on track.

For example, the presidential Oath of Office, 35 words of promise and commitment, has not changed in more than two centuries. Each incoming president pledges the same oath – “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Thirty-five words that carry with them the hopes and dreams of our country. That’s powerful stuff no matter what side of the political arena you prefer.

The speech, the luncheon, the procession, the parade, the balls are all part of the tradition as well. There is a system, a procedure, a protocol; an agenda of activities that are part of every presidential inaugural ceremony; an order that’s familiar to us. Even though we can’t predict the future, we know that the transition of power will stay the same and we get to witness it.

The way we witness it has dramatically changed. When James Polk took office in 1845, Samuel Morse used his invention – the electric telegraph to tap out the message; the inauguration ceremony of 1857 was the first to be photographed; 40 years later, movie cameras recorded highlights of William McKinley’s ceremony; the radio was how Americans heard Calvin Coolidge take the oath; and in 1949, Harry Truman’s swearing in was the first televised. Bill Clinton’s inauguration was the first to have a website and be seen on the Internet around the world; Barack Obama’s was covered by Webcast and now Donald Trump can be seen all over social media. It’s what we witness that remains constant and that’s what is most important.

George Washington said it best, “What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president but the election of the second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world.”

Posted by MJ Thomas

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