The inauguration is why I love America. Of all the presidential events, from election night to the State of the Union, from press conferences to state dinners, the inauguration is my favorite for one simple reason. More than any other moment, the inauguration is a picture of our Constitution, proof that we are a nation based on representation, not royalty.
In a single instance the three branches of government— the executive, judicial and legislative— come together for a united purpose. A new president takes the oath of office administered by the chief justice of the Supreme Court while standing in front of the U.S. Capitol that houses Congress.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is happy about the winner of an election, though many are. But it does mean that this American experiment, the “sacred fire of liberty” as George Washington called it in his first inaugural, is still burning today.
John F. Kennedy, who won by a mere 112,000 votes in a bitter election, poignantly explained America’s ceremonial unity at his 1961 inauguration. “We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom.”
Even during America’s darkest days in the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln used the inauguration to look optimistically at the halo of history as a sign of hope for a united future by saying, “The mystic chords of memory. . . will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched. . . by the better angels of our nature.”
Last week I had the unexpected opportunity to give an interview to SKY News Arabia about America’s inauguration. I said what I’ve written here, that the inauguration is a picture of our three branches of government and shows a peaceful transfer of power. When the reporter told me that my words would be translated into Arabic and broadcast in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, I teared up in the hope that maybe someone would better understand America and our form of government because of our inauguration ceremony.
George W. Bush’s words from his 2005 inauguration seemed profoundly relevant as I thought about those who don’t have the freedom to worship, speak or peacefully oppose their government. “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world,” Bush said.
Because not everyone lives in a country that celebrates freedom and witnesses a change of executive presidential power every four or eight years, Ronald Reagan proclaimed at his 1981 inauguration that “In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”
This peaceful transfer of power is miraculous and taps our better angels through a ceremonial picture of unity broadcast to the world. That is why I love the inauguration. And the inauguration is why I love the United States of America.
Jane Hampton Cook is an award-winning author and a former White House webmaster. The author of nine books her latest is "The Burning of the White House: James & Dolley Madison and the War of 1812." For more, visit her website, janecook.com.