For all the political distractions of the day, America's presidential inauguration is still a pretty big deal.
It's easy to forget that America is more than one political party or another. It's more than who's president. Indeed, regardless of what you and I think of the person being sworn in as our Commander-in-Chief, the fact that we go through this ritual every four years without a civil war breaking out from coast to coast speaks more to the integrity of our country's purpose and promise than mere petty, party politics.
Although, in a way, it's that hot contention sparking between our political parties - and indeed, within them - that contributes the most to our inauguration days being so remarkable.
Whether it's a Republican or a Democrat who's won the presidential election, our country has spent three years, twelve months, and thirty days bickering, threatening, demeaning, complaining, protesting, marching, legislating against, and fretting amongst each other. And then on a singular day in January, whomever the opposition is at that time tones down its rhetoric, and lets the majority team relish its day in the political sun.
Sure, a lot of other democracies and republics around the world do pretty much the same thing when political parties observe transitions in rule, but America is the largest and most diverse to have them conducted free of violence. India, the world's largest democracy, has a horrible history of violence during its elections, which casts a pall over its actual inaugurations of presidents and prime ministers.
Here in the United States, deep divisions, mistrust, and even outright hatred exist between advocates of left-wing and right-wing political philosophies, and those don't serendipitously evaporate on inauguration day. But for all of our bluster, incivility, and rudeness on every other day of our election cycles, whenever we Americans are on the minority side of an inauguration, we manage to let the day go by with at least muted disdain, if not outright resignation that the person whose presidency we're acknowledging is still a better option than, say, North Korea's rule of law.
Not the highest of praise, of course, for our incoming president from an opposition party, but enough of a mollifier to keep at least a pretense of unity and continuity.
Then, too, there's the fact that American society tends to elect the representation it deserves. Which means the person being welcomed into the presidency hasn't gotten there by failing to attract the most votes. And the person who attracted the most votes didn't accomplish that by failing to connect emotionally and intellectually with more voters than their opposition.
Which means that it's the emotional and intellectual integrity of the electorate that each presidential election gauges. And when you and your candidate lose an election, you're often slapped upside the head with that reality: not everybody thinks the same way you do, and they don't react to the same conditions in the same way you do. For us Americans, that reality can be more sobering than inflammatory, since, regardless of who wins, we've got a massive social and economic infrastructure that needs to be sustained. Inauguration days in America, then, are kind of like the Cold War, when both sides realize they have more to lose by attacking the other, and that works to help keep things in check.
At least for the day.
Then there's the fact that Americans are easily entertained as much as they're easily provoked. Sure, federal workers and school children have the day off, but stores are still open, most corporations are operating on a regular schedule, and unless you're a resident of Washington, DC, life is going on like normal. Consider, too, that our attention spans are notoriously short, and the inauguration of Barak Obama to his second term in office is just one of many items competing for it. On the CBS News website this afternoon, for example, the top three stories were what Michelle Obama was wearing today, the 49ers beating the Falcons, and the Obama girls "growing up in front of our eyes." Not exactly incendiary or controversial news, unless you're a football fan from Atlanta. And while an inauguration-themed story led in popularity, it was what designer our First Lady had selected to dress her, not anything to do with her husband being the president our country had selected.
The most popular video on CNN.com this afternoon wasn't anything at all related to the inauguration, but a story about killer whales trapped in Canadian ice. The top news story on Fox News' website was Phil Mickelson's threat to move out of California to avoid its new, more punitive tax code. Meanwhile, the normally rancorous Drudge Report restrained itself with a "1461 More Days" banner, a multi-tasker of a headline if there every was one: begrudgingly giving Obama the win, holding little enthusiasm for the next four years, but also casting hope for future opportunity during the next presidential election.
In other words, we keep marching forward.
Or at least, we hope that's what America does.
But... forward to what? More of what the left wants, or a renewed sense of purpose for what the right wants?
Today, we celebrate the reality that not all Americans voted for the person taking their presidential hike down Pennsylvania Avenue, yet those who didn't vote for that person aren't obstructing or denying that reality. And we're also celebrating the fact that in four years, the political shoe has the opportunity to be on the other foot. When one's candidate loses an election, does that speak more to that candidate's appeal, or the appeal of the candidate who won? Disagree with a president on their political merits if you want, but ignoring the populist sentiment that put that president in office will not benefit your choice's chances next time around.
Some conservatives may find plenty to personally grouse about whose inauguration this is, but it's in our best interests to let liberals have this day, and to even share it with them to the extent that it commemorates our resolve to continue our participation in what has been dubbed this grand experiment called America.
If nothing else, today is a day symbolizing opportunity. Even if some Americans are happier about its short-term implications than others.