Inauguration Day is uniquely American

January 22, 2017

03-04-presidentslevee“Uniquely American” is a phrase we Americans ascribe to everything from the cheeseburger to baseball to Hollywood to even the mess and mud that is our electoral process. We take great pride in “being” American.

And why shouldn’t we? Nowhere in the annals of human history can there be found a nation quite as unique as “We the People”. While true that we borrowed from Athens, Rome and even Mother England, this nation we call the United States of America is purely American and most certainly unique.

And if there is any one thing, befitting that “uniquely American” title, it is the date January 20th. A date, that brings to itself every four or eight years, the peaceful transfer of power between an outgoing and an incoming President of the United States. “Inauguration Day” to us, only a dream to billions around the world without one.

When George Washington voluntarily gave up power after two terms as our first President the example was set for generations to come. An example that all except Franklin Roosevelt would follow voluntarily, and an example now enshrined in the Constitution for all to follow hence.

Inaugural speeches have been short (Washington’s first was only 135 words) to unbearably long (William Henry Harrison’s was over 8,000). They have been delivered in times of peace and prosperity, in the depths of depressions, and during times of war. And a few, a very few, have seen their lines sewn into the very fabric of our society.

As the Civil War was coming to a close, Lincoln implored: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds,….”

FDR’s first inaugural address let it be known across the land, that even with the nation locked in the jaws of the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

There was the young Senator for Massachusetts turned President, 43 year old John Fitzgerald Kennedy extolling to “friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans..” and calling upon those Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

It was a former actor and governor of California, Ronald Wilson Reagan who reminded us of just how special our circumstances with “In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.” and told us what we already new with “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Barack Obama reminded us that “In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.” and “it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things….who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

And in delivering his first inaugural one of America’s most unlikely Presidents, a real estate tycoon from Queens, New York, one Donald J. Trump put forth some of his own for the future to judge:

Referencing the movement that elected him, Mr. Trump went to our founding core: “At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens.” and he reminded us of our commonality “And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator. “

But the one line I found most uniquely American was a thirteen word string of both the simple and profound:

“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

Or by my way of thinking, if we don’t first appreciate our country, how can we be expected to appreciate each other?

Think about it. After all the derision and division of these past years, could a little renewed patriotism really be all that bad?

Publisher’s Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the January 22, 2017 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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