The loss of innocence. And we thought it could only happen once.
“I can’t help but think: You see these photos of the West Side of the Capitol, where presidents have stood and the transition of power has occurred. It’s so tainted now, with insurrectionists actually storming the Capitol. It’s hard to go back.”
That’s Joey Katz, son of Cooperstown’s former mayor Jeff Katz, then a teenager, who – with his mother, Karen, the village former first lady – saw the second inauguration of Barack Obama. Then-congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican (and now Siena College president), provided his tickets, so the Katzes had a pretty good view.
Inauguration is more than a simple swearing-in, more than an individual president – in this case, Democrat Joe Biden – pledging to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
It’s a recognition, an affirmation of the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next, as has occurred since John Adams succeeded George Washington on Saturday, March 4, 1797, in Philadelphia’s Congress Hall. Even then, after a bitter campaign, there was talk of civil war, of whether Thomas Jefferson’s partisans would accept the outcome.
Accept they did, and Jefferson and his partisans then won the Election of 1800 and he took the oath on Wednesday, March 4, 1801 – his was the first four-year term. And the nation has stumbled forward since then for two centuries, sometimes in war, sometimes in peace, but rarely if ever in tranquility.
We often hear it said that ours is the oldest democracy on the planet. And that the peaceful transition power is “a miracle” – uttered by the Godless and devout alike, so it must be so.
Since Wednesday, Jan. 6, when the Oath Takers – the Grinches of Inauguration season, if you will – Proud Boys (proud of what?) and other hotheads stormed the Capitol, President Lincoln’s exhortation from his first Inaugural Address is often uttered:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
Actually, the bulk of that 1861 Inaugural – go back and take a look – has Lincoln seeking to convince the Southern States not to secede, by pledging to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.
The Second Inaugural, delivered in the midst of Civil War, better resonates today: “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
And then that chilling sentence: “Yet, if God wills that (the Civil War) continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, … it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether’.”
The point is, the work – and it’s hard, and it’s sloppy – is never done.
And never will be.
Still, many of us watching President Biden take the oath on Wednesday, Jan. 20, must have been asking ourselves, how will we again achieve not perfect, but relative tranquility? To Joey Katz’s point: It’s hard to go back, but go back we must. His memories of 2013 are an argument that we must.
“The day before, we were walking through the Mall,” said Katz, a 2013 CCS graduate and 2017 SUNY Purchase film major, a Boston Jewish Film production associate, now living in Buffalo. “We could hear James Taylor rehearsing ‘God Bless America.’ It was sort of a festival atmosphere, but much more low-key.
“I was a fan of the guy – that one. I was very relaxed and very happy to be there. It was a real coming-together moment, a unifying patriotic moment, not a gung-ho patriotic moment.”
Katz paused. “I’m very proud to be an American. And it was amazing to see it in action. To see the president. To be there. To witness. Just to see the process. Just to know you were in a country
where things were going to work out.”
“A country where things are going to work out.”
Each of us have the responsibility to make that happen. As we enter the 46th president’s administration, let’s prosecute the lawbreakers – it’s easy enough, given the damning social media clips.
Then let’s make a point of tolerating each other, of accepting that, if people disagree with us, they simply disagree with us – they aren’t immoral, they aren’t that guy with the buffalo head.
Let’s default to moderation, as individuals. We can do that in Otsego County, NY. It’s hard to go back, as Joey Katz rightly said. But let’s will ourselves, individually, to go back.
If enough of us do, moderation will rule – until, inevitably, we’ll have to do it all over again.