I have been an observer now for many, many State of the Union addresses and Inaugurations. During my lifetime I have noticed how they continue to become more and more elaborate with time. I personally don’t like the message that such pomp and circumstance delivers to the nation. I am writing this now for future inaugurations regardless of who the future victor might be or which party may be in power at a future date.
In ancient Rome the Forum was often filled to capacity with literally thousands of citizens and slaves and what I guess we would call non-citizen residents. All members of Roman society were not citizens. That was a special honor and carried with it rights and powers that had been won over the centuries by Roman blood and effort for good or ill. Some of the those old epic movies like Ben Hur or Cleopatra really did convey some sense of what it was like when a new Caesar or other leader came to power and addressed the people. Victorious generals even had their triumphs to the shouts and hossanas of the crowd, or mob would sometimes be a more accurate description. Even those generals in their moment of glory when riding in the lead chariot would have a slave or other commoner with them constantly repeating into their ear those words–“remember thou are but a man” or sometimes rendered “thou art mortal”. A bit of humbleness is a good thing for anyone assuming a role of great leader and power. Our modern inaugurations have lost all sense of that humbleness. It has been a steady stream of over the top spectacle now for decades. Those in charge of these events have lost all sense of moderation.
Likewise the State of the Union addresses have gotten completely out of hand for all our modern Presidents. I don’t think any of our Presidents of the last 100 years could carry George Washington’s boots but his inauguration was a simple affair on a balcony in New York with a crowd watching and then a small reception. His State of the Union presentations were letters written to the Congress about the domestic and international affairs of the country. There was no theatrics or drama to it at all. It was as intended in the Constitution to be an accounting of the affairs of the nation. Now we have these spectacles with a joint session of Congress and the Supreme Court there and the top military and Cabinet members in attendence doing obeisience to the President. They have become all drama and PR stunts rather than a somber assessment of the nation and its progress or lack of progress.
I think Inaugurations should be dignified and relatively small affairs. Ten thousand people is enough. I have no problem with the victor and his winning party wanting to have a celebration and party for themselves afterward. I don’t care how big those are and they can invite anyone they like and dance till dawn if they are so inclined. But they should be strictly private matters. The public aspect of these events is what concerns me. They are becoming more and more like a coronation than an inauguration of an equal to a position of responsibility. Do we really need parties and concerts before the event and these huge platforms built and parades with every little pet group brought in from all over the country? All parties and all politicians I think are guilty of this excess. I believe we are all more interested in what these people actually do than what they say. Make no mistake about it, the spectacle is intentional and meant to convey a sense of profound importance to the person being inaugurated whether they deserve it are not. I think the big celebration for any President should come when he leaves office! After he has done something worthwhile and that makes the people really proud of him as our leader. We the people, so far, get to approve of our Government and we should make the politicians earn our respect and devotion. No President has done anything to earn that on inauguration day. He has only won an election and more often than not by a pretty slim majority. The fellow tomorrow received only 52% of the vote. Not exactly a unaminous proclamation.
These thoughts and suggestions are for the future not today’s headlines. I find it scary that politicians think we can be manipulated so easily with spectacle. If they are right that is all the more reason to be worried.
MLK was investigated by the FBI for good reasons because of his radical positions and associations with socialist sympathizers. Charles Lindbergh was investigated also for good reason because of his association with the American First movement before the war. I deploy it when media and politicians cherry pick their history. Lay it all out, warts and all, and let us make our own determination about what it all means and who deserves our approbation or disapproval. Spoon fed history is so dangerous.