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Started: 2021-01-21 20:21:37

Submitted: 2021-01-22 00:23:24

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator watches history unfold with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president

As a follow-up to my applied civics seminar two weeks ago when an armed mob stormed the US Capitol in a failed attempt at fomenting an insurrection, I let Calvin skip his first two classes of the day to watch the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden; and the first-ever woman and person of color to hold the office of Vice President, my former senator Kamala Harris.

In the two weeks leading up to the inauguration, the news was uncomfortably exciting as everyone reacted to the attack, and reacted to the reaction to the attack. I felt a delightful moment of schadenfreude as Twitter finally got around to muzzling the outgoing president, better late than never. (I had blocked his account years ago, which made my own Twitter feed that much better.) Then the House voted to impeach the president — again — and I imagined the outgoing president trapped inside the White House unable to to spew his normal tirade of outrage on Twitter, and I knew we were all better for it.

I saw the picture of the National Guard sleeping in the halls of the US Capitol building and I realized that infantry was fortifying the US Capitol building to protect the legislature against paramilitary militia forces loyal to the outgoing president defeated in a free and fair election. This was not what I expected to see in my country, and it was shocking to see that it was necessary, but it was not altogether surprising given the last four years.

Then came inauguration day. I turned on the PBS News Hour's feed and streamed it to my TV (though it occurred to me that I could probably find a broadcast on one or more local TV channels, if I could be bothered to plug in my broadcast antenna and scan the channels and figure out whether I can get a good signal from wherever the local broadcast antennas are located) and settled in to the couch to watch. The last time I watched a presidential inauguration was Obama in 2009, from my desk in my office at Qualcomm; the only other inauguration I remember watching live was Clinton in 1993, when I stayed home sick from school and happened to watch on TV. (So I guess this means I've watched the first-term inaugurations for all three Democrat presidents elected during my lifetime.) We watched people walk through the Capitol to exit onto the steps and take their seats on the platform, exchanging awkward fist-bumps and elbow-jabs as they tried to greet the people waiting on the platform without getting too close. I tried to figure out who all the people were — made more difficult by the fact that they were all wearing masks and because I get much of my news audio-only through my earbuds, so I have only a vague idea what many congressional leaders look like.

The camera stayed tight on the Capitol steps most of the time, where the thick sheet of bullet-proof glass was clearly visible protecting the bottom of the platform. The camera occasionally panned across the crowd, where the contrast to previous years was stark. The people who were allowed to attend were sitting on folding chairs in islands of two, with plenty of space between them. The entire Mall was fenced off, as a security precaution in the immediate aftermath of the failed insurrection and an anti-COVID measure. The field of flags standing in the first several vast squares of grass looked weird, pixelated and strewn with compression artifacts as they blew in the wind, as the MPEG encoder struggled to keep up.

The Vice President-Elect took the stage, then the President-Elect (to a fanfare that was not "Hail to the Chief", the last time Biden would hear a different fanfare for the next four years), and the inauguration got going, with a few brief statements (and a lengthy prayer), then the swearing-in of the Vice President and then the President. (The clause in their oath "against all enemies, foreign and domestic" took extra meaning after the failed insurrection two weeks ago, when it became very obvious that our country's most dangerous enemies come from within our own country.) Then I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen next, since Biden's term didn't technically start until noon EST, which was still nine minutes in the future.

Biden stepped up to the podium for his inaugural address, running out the clock on the Trump presidency and the first ten minutes of his own presidency. I was so happy to have a president that didn't embarrass me that I didn't remember much of the speech, but that was the point: it was a normal speech read by a normal politician who had normal serious ideas about how to govern.

We tuned in to see the peaceful transition of power, but the star of the show was poet Amanda Gorman delivering her poem "The Hill We Climb" immediately after Biden's speech. She was the first to address our new President and First Lady, and Vice-President and Second Gentleman: "Mister President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice-President, Mr. Emhoff" (which was amazing and profound all by itself); and her poem was spectacular.

The inauguration wrapped up quickly after that (and we heard the fanfare "Hail to the Chief", now that Biden is properly president), and as the talking-heads overtook the news broadcast to try to react to and explain what we'd seen, I took Calvin outside to the flag pole on the driveway to fly the American flag I bought specifically so I could fly it on the occasion of the inauguration of this president. I talked about the tradition of the flag, and the rules and traditions around flying the flag; then we unpacked the flag, attached it to the flagpole, and hoisted it into the perfectly-calm clear blue sky.

American flag flying
American flag flying

At this moment, on this day, I felt proud to be an American again: proud that we fought back the enemies lurking within our own country (and within our own government) to hold a (mostly) free and fair election and select an opposition leader and hold a (somewhat) orderly and (relatively) peaceful transition of power. Today I was going to display my national symbol for the America I believe in: free and democratic, welcoming of all people regardless of race or religion or national origin or orientation or gender identity. I flew the flag proudly, as a repudiation of the now-defunct Trump administration and an endorsement of the incoming Biden administration.

I sent Calvin back to his online classes, and headed to work myself. I set an alarm to remind me to take down the flag while it was still daylight; and at 17:00 I took Calvin back to the flag pole to lower and fold the flag, demonstrating the proper flag-folding technique, then storing the flag safely indoors until the next time I decide to fly it.

American flag at sunset
American flag at sunset

I'm glad the last presidential administration is over, and I'm looking forward to not worrying about what the president is doing, because we have much bigger problems to deal with.