The Corner

Politics & Policy

Inaugural Notes

President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Patrick Semansky /Pool via Reuters)

Like you, I bet, I have very strong political views. I air them all the time. Also, however, I am an American — and I love the inaugural ceremony. It gets my patriotic juices flowing. It strikes the mystic chords of memory. In my view, our allegiance should be to the system — our democracy. Not to a party, faction, or man. “Ordered liberty” is our party, in a sense.

This is a central theme of David French’s book Divided We Fall (which I wrote about here).

• In 1984, Senator Biden thought about running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He drew back. I was a sophomore in college at the time. I remember all of that well. After 1984, Biden had a few false starts, presidentially. And now he has been sworn in — for the first time — in 2021.

This amazes me. Say what you will — and there is a lot to say — it has been an extraordinary political career.

No one on the right will admit it (now). But everyone will, as time passes.

• Vice President Pence was at the inauguration, symbolizing the transition from one administration to another. It had to fall to someone. It should really fall to the president (in this case, Trump). It is part of the president’s duty, in my judgment. It is not written down. But it is tradition — and a good one.

Plus, I’m a conservative, and I like (good) traditions.

But Donald Trump did not have it in him. Evidently, he was too small.

• You will remember the street slogan “The whole world is watching.” The whole world watches the inaugural ceremony, too. It watches America in general. The way we comport ourselves, matters.

Is this “globalist”? “Cosmopolitan”? “Cuck”? Regardless, it is true.

• George W. Bush was present yesterday. He has attended many an inauguration — beginning in 1981, when his dad was sworn in as vice president.

Long ago, a colleague of mine made an observation — a couple of them, actually.

On the platform that day, January 20, 1981, were two men named Ronald Reagan and two men named George Bush. It was not clear, on that day, that the younger Bush would be a bigger deal in the world than the younger Reagan.

Also, of those two Ronald Reagans and two George Bushes? In time, three of the four would be president.

• Father Leo O’Donovan (b. 1934) offered the invocation yesterday. He was dignified, wise, and thoroughly fitting.

I have heard many, many prayers at many, many public gatherings. Most of them turn out to be speeches, of one kind or another — not proper prayers. Often, the speaker is just showing off, or seizing his moment in the spotlight.

Those who actually do pray? Bless them.

• I’m afraid that our inaugural ceremonies have turned into pop concerts. Marian Anderson, Marilyn Horne, Jessye Norman, Susan Graham (of George W. Bush’s hometown, Midland, Texas) — gone with the wind. This says something about our culture more broadly.

A pity.

• Kamala Harris is a beautiful woman. Few on the right will admit it. But . . .

(So is Joan Baez, and so is Jane Fonda. You don’t have to agree with their politics. Geezum.)

(So is Jill Biden. Mock the “Dr.” all you want — it’s true.)

• “I wish the new president well.” This is a cliché. Usually, we don’t mean it, I think. We say it through gritted teeth. Or we don’t say it at all. But when the country is broken and inflamed? I think the cliché takes on more meaning than ever. Real meaning.

• In his address, Biden used two R words, linking them: “renewal and resolve.” Good. Very good.

• “Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy.” Good. Very good.

• “Democracy is fragile.” Yes.

• “So now, on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”

Okay — but “violence” did not seek to shake the Capitol, except in a poetic sense: People did. A specific mob.

Did you catch how George F. Will opened his latest column? It’s classic Will: “Standing where his predecessor decried what he subsequently delivered — ‘American carnage’ — Joe Biden on Wednesday promised a recuperative presidency.”

• Said Biden, “I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence here.”

• My mind travels back to January 20, 1977. The new president, Jimmy Carter, opened his address this way: “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.” (He was speaking of President Ford, of course.)

Will Biden’s successor say something like that about him?

• Biden spoke a lot about “unity,” calling for “unity.” Okay. But unity should not mean “Agree with me.” “Step in line with me.” Americans should be united around: our system, our way of life — the Declaration, the Constitution, etc. Again, ordered liberty.

• “Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.” Yes. For heaven’s sake, yes. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.” Yes. Very well put.

• Biden quoted Lincoln — who said, when signing the Emancipation Proclamation, “If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” Biden then said of the task, or tasks, that have fallen to him: “My whole soul is in it.”

Good.

• “And I pledge this to you,” said Biden: “I will be a president for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”

A cliché, yes — but refreshing now. Very, very refreshing, after recent years. A “base” president is so . . . base.

• “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” If we did this, a great many would go out of business.

• “There are some days when we need a hand. There are other days when we’re called on to lend one.” Nicely formulated, as Bill Buckley would say.

• Biden cited a song called “American Anthem,” by Gene Scheer (b. 1958). As it happens, my friend Kevin Murphy made the first recording of it, in 1999. He is the pianist on the recording. The singer is Nathan Gunn, the baritone. (Kevin is the husband of the soprano Heidi Grant Murphy, by the way.)

To listen to that track, go here. (Have you ever heard Nathan Gunn’s voice? Holy-moly.)

• In my view, Biden’s speech grew too long, and very repetitious. Should have ended with the silent prayer.

• On the campaign trail last summer, Trump said that Biden would “hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God.” Frankly, this did not seem all that evident to me from the inauguration, but we’ll see.

• That lovely poet, Amanda Gorman? In 2017, she was named “national youth poet laureate.” As my regular readers know, I am against “official artists” in the United States, including the poet laureate. When the first one was named, in 1985, I was shocked. Such things seem to me un-American. Leave it to France, for example.

Officialdom is very important. So is art. But I think of these two spheres as separate — at least in our republic.

Years ago, a high-placed government official called me. Could I recommend some people for some opera awards? I said I did not believe in governmental awards for music. “Yeah, yeah,” said the official, “I don’t disagree, but the awards are going to be given anyway, so they might as well go to people who are worthy.”

Hard to argue with that . . .

Yesterday, Daniel Hannan sent me a column he wrote in 2008 — on the position of poet laureate in Britain. Wonderful column, smart and entertaining.

• At 12:16 p.m. yesterday, the minority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), issued a tweet:

Congratulations to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Now we must get to work to solve the challenges facing our country. We are all Americans, and together we will succeed, as we have for more than 230 years.

Very nice. I’m all for “moving on” — but not without correction. You can sweep many things under the rug, and they should be swept under the rug, in my opinion. But elephants, Cadillacs, and Himalayas?

Two days after the election, McCarthy was on Fox News, talking to Laura Ingraham (of course). “President Trump won this election,” he said, “so everyone who’s listening: Do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”

McCarthy joined the Paxton lawsuit. He voted against certification.

The new nicey-nice is better than the old disinformation campaign, but come on: The Republican Party needs some kind of lustration, for the sake of its future health.

Accountability, personal responsibility — these were held to be “conservative values,” not all that long ago . . .

• Yesterday, Kevin D. Williamson had a scorching piece: “Witless Ape Rides Helicopter.” There was some anger in that piece: righteous anger, in my judgment. And, naturally, it was received angrily, by Trump Nation.

I would like to make an observation: Often, Trump Nation seems to think they’re the only ones in the whole country who have a right to be angry. The rest of us must understand their anger. We must accommodate it, and even honor it.

Well, other people may be angry, too — at them, for example. We may not sack the Capitol, leaving corpses in our wake. But that doesn’t mean we don’t harbor anger.

On Fox, Laura Ingraham described the insurrectionary mob at the Capitol as “a bunch of desperate people.” Uh-huh. Well, that’s better than describing them as “Antifa,” I guess. But I think she is dead wrong. She has been right about many things over these past 25 years or so, I think. Probably most things. This, no.

To say it again, Trump Nation does not have a monopoly on anger. Others of us have reason to be angry, too — for example, over the moral and intellectual collapse of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

This is an ongoing subject — and ongoing and ongoing . . .

• Now, something lighter. You know that instant “meme” of Bernie Sanders, sitting with his arms folded, kind of harrumphy? (For an article — and photos — go here.) My favorite reaction came from Chandra Steele, a writer at PC Magazine: “In Jewish yoga, this pose is: waiting for my wife at Loehmann’s.” (Loehmann’s was a department store.)

• My friend Eric C. Simpson — late of The New Criterion — is a classicist, violinist, writer, etc. He is also a Philadelphian. Yesterday, he texted me, “First Iggles fan to be president” — “Iggles” meaning “Eagles,” as in the NFL team (not the rock group).

That’s a Philadelphian.

• On Twitter, I said, “Saying ‘President Biden’ is like writing the new year on that first check.” Many responded — as I knew they would — “You still write checks? Who does that?”

I plead conservatism. But my checks are getting ever fewer, as I get with it, or try to . . .

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