Tomorrow, January 20, 2017, is Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. That word, “inauguration,” comes from the Latin original, meaning a “consecration or installment under good omens.”
Let’s hope so!
The 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, will be sworn into office, but his will be the 58th formal inaugural ceremony. The numbers differ because 19 presidents served two terms, six others were sworn without ceremony immediately after their predecessor died, and one of lamented memory, Richard Nixon, resigned.
I personally witnessed six of these impressive Capitol events, the first on January 20, 1953, when General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was sworn in. The next day, I took my own first oath of office as a 15-year-old page boy in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As a member of the House Republican legislative staff, I was present at the inaugurations of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon twice, and as a member of the House in 1977, I was on the platform for Jimmy Carter’s inaugural.
As a former member of Congress, I was entitled to two tickets to tomorrow’s festivities. I declined. I offered them to several of my fellow Republicans; there were no takers. Some 60 or more bitter House Democrats in a tantrum have announced their boycott.
My own most memorable inaugural was January 21, 1957, President Eisenhower’s second, on a cold, bone-chilling, rainy day.
I was honored to participate in the inaugural parade on the Maryland float as part of a human recreation of the Maryland state seal. Dressed in costume and boots, I was the Eastern Shore waterman holding a fake fish (on the right, my preferred political position).
Maryland U.S. Senator J. Glenn Beall’s son played the Western Maryland miner with a shovel. We nearly froze to death for four hours before we finally were towed, shivering, past the president’s reviewing stand at the White House.
At his second inaugural, January 21, 1985, my friend, President Ronald Reagan, recognized his changed America:
When the first President, George Washington, placed his hand upon the Bible, he stood less than a single day’s journey by horseback from raw, untamed wilderness. There were 4 million Americans in a union of 13 States. Today, we are 60 times as many in a union of 50 States. We have lighted the world with our inventions, gone to the aid of mankind wherever in the world there was a cry for help, journeyed to the Moon and safely returned. So much has changed. And yet we stand together as we did two centuries ago.
These 32 years later, Americans certainly are not united.
To some degree, future national unity may depend on tomorrow’s words from Mr. Trump. I look forward hopefully to his inaugural address.
The shortest of all addresses was that of George Washington at his second inaugural, March 4, 1793 — only 135 words. Since Mr. Trump, an expert tweeter, can pack pungent policy into 140 characters, perhaps he may rival our first president’s brevity.
Based on his animated campaign orations, I suspect the 70-year-old Mr. Trump will choose to speak a bit longer. He should keep in mind the sad example of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison.
Without a hat or overcoat, in a snowstorm on a cold and windy March 4, 1841, the loquacious Harrison, age 68, delivered the longest inaugural address in history (one hour and 45 minutes; 8,495 words). That verbal extravagance assured his would be the shortest presidency. He died of pneumonia a month later.
I can guess what some might be thinking — but the forecast for tomorrow’s ceremony and parade is gray, damp and lots of rain. No snow.
Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, requires a president to swear thusly:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Long before reality TV, George Washington, uttering the very first such oath, ad-libbed the ending with the prayerful request, “so help me God,” setting a precedent for future presidents.
If ever Washington’s appeal for divine blessing on a U.S. president was needed, it is now.
Yours for liberty,
Bob Bauman JD
Chairman, Freedom Alliance