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The inauguration of President Joe Biden was like no other in our history. I have had the privilege of attending five inaugurations before President Biden’s this week, and the atmosphere this year was understandably more somber than the others. With all that our nation has been through over the past year, including the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol, it was if the nation was holding its breath. But as we always have, the United States peacefully transferred authority from one administration to the next.
This year, I attended the inauguration as a member of the opposition party. After more than two months of angry debate about the outcome, Democrats and Republicans put the arguments in the past and convened peacefully in the nation’s capital to witness our new president swear that to the best of his ability, he will “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The inauguration of President Reagan was special for me, even though I watched it from a distance. He followed Jimmy Carter when the country was still healing from the Vietnam War, and we were struggling with high inflation in a sluggish economy. The two main political parties were as divided as they ever had been.
But we handed off the baton without incident. In his inaugural address, President Reagan noted that Americans take for granted the peaceful quadrennial transfer of power.
He said, “The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”
At this year’s inauguration, my seat was about fifteen yards behind the 46th President of the United States as he delivered his first speech as our Commander in Chief. When you are there, you can’t help but think of all the other presidents and significant Americans who have walked on that very ground over the past two centuries to participate in this wonder of self-government.
This year’s inauguration was no less a miracle than the fifty-eight others that preceded it. Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old youth poet laureate who delivered her poem, The Hill We Climb, captured it beautifully when she said: “And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
One of the most difficult hand offs was in 1801 when selection of the president fell to the House of Representatives, who elected Thomas Jefferson over the incumbent John Adams. In a letter that President Jefferson wrote to President Adams towards the end of their lives, Mr. Jefferson recalled that time through the long lens of history. When it was all said and done, he wrote, they had fought for the same cause. He wrote, “It carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man … Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ever ahead threatening to overwhelm us, and yet passing harmless ... we rode (safely) through the storm.”
Once again, the United States has sailed safely through the storm of an election and the transfer of power. It’s a journey I don’t take for granted.
As President Reagan said: “That's our heritage; that is our song. We sing it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old, as we raise our voices to the God who is the Author of this most tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world with our sound—sound in unity, affection, and love—one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world.”
These words still ring true today.