The unspoken wish of presidential inaugurations in this country is that they present an opportunity to cajole unity in full view and light of history.
For a day, at least, they summon the willing, the unwilling, the winners and the losers, those arriving, those departing, those who have tasted victory and those still digesting defeat.
They and we the people are herded to a ceremony in person or virtually where we are reminded of what we so quickly forget, that we are one nation, we are Americans, and we have an infinite number of shared values and dreams.
Thankfully, I saw a lot of that Friday — but not much during the 17-minute speech of our 45th president, Donald John Trump, who had a golden opportunity to be conciliatory and gracious for history but did not use enough of his 1,000 seconds to do so.
Though his page-turning populist message about “the forgotten men and women of the country” and that “we share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny” was firmly delivered with passion, it resonated more like a postgame victory address or another stump speech to the 62. 9 million people who voted for Trump, and not extended it to the larger number who did not.
My hope is that Trump used this stark approach to prepare Americans for the difficult times of change ahead when so much of the business-as-usual ways of Washington are going to be questioned and, likely, altered.
I am comforted Trump used a milder and more unifying tone when speaking at the Congressional Luncheon — and wonder why that was absent during his speech to the whole nation. The public tough-guy persona needs the seasoning of the more private and human Trump. There is nothing to lose, everything to gain.
At the luncheon Trump acknowledged that, yes, we are Republicans, Democrats, but we are all Americans and “we all want the same thing.” He then reached out and voiced his respect for Bill and Hillary Clinton — who, unlike many of their Democratic colleagues — showed up at the inauguration and stood tall at the luncheon and shook Trump’s hand. The toughness of Hillary Clinton that Trump praised during one of their contentious debates was on display.
So, as we leave the more predictable and conventional era of the Obama administration and enter the unpredictable and unconventional administration of the Trump times, I ask that our new president consider a strategy used by one of the generals Trump says he so admires: David Petraeus.
After nearly a generation of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Petraeus recognized there would be no ultimate victory until the occupying Americans had attempted to win over the “hearts and minds” of the people who lived there. Trump would do well to seek unity and inclusiveness with every next move he makes.
Meanwhile, I am going to exercise optimism in lieu of any other choice. If you go back eight years, and then eight years before that, and eight years before that — you’re at 1993 and William Jefferson Clinton has his hand on the Bible.
The swing from Republican George H. Bush, to Democrat Clinton, to Republican George W. Bush, to Democrat Barack Obama either means we are a fickle nation or we are unafraid to stir things up and turn the power structure upside down. There is irrefutable historic evidence that we can weather and power through any new time. Secretly, I think we love it.
I saw both the fear and breathless adoration at each of these transitions. I heard it all: that the socialist, communist, war-mongering, pacifists, New World Order, secret conspirators among these administrations would drive or lure this nation to the brink of hell, and that our enemies would feast on our lapse of vigilance.
So far, it has never happened. Quoting President Trump: “God Bless America.”