When my oldest son, Lincoln, invited me to accompany him to Washington, D.C. to attend the inaugural ceremony of our country’s 45th President, I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant. Instead of festoons of red, white and blue coming to mind, my first thought was of masked terrorists and chaos. It just seemed like an ideal opportunity for havoc to unfold. But, I quickly considered the top-notch security that would be in place and realized I’d be a fool to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend this historic occasion in our nation’s capital city with the son who announced in first grade that he would one day live in the White House!
We arrived a day early and stopped by U.S. Senator James Lankford’s office to pickup our inaugural tickets. Expecting to simply be handed the tickets over the counter, we were pleasantly surprised to be escorted to a meeting room where the senator’s staff had set-up a welcome reception for his Oklahoma guests. Hospitality was top notch as we were treated to friendly conversation and Oklahoma-made food products.
After checking out the senate building, we used our time to wander throughout the U.S. Capitol area. Temperatures were ideal and there was a definite feeling of anticipation and excitement in the air as we encountered other tourists and observed a lot of last-minute prepping taking place on the Capitol grounds. As we located where our tickets would allow us to occupy the next day, we realized we were hearing young singing sensation Jackie Evancho on the platform of the Capitol rehearsing the National Anthem, which she would be singing the next day. When she finished, one of the choirs filled the steps for their own rehearsal. It was perfect timing to enjoy just a taste of what was to come.
Our family vacation to Washington, D.C. was years ago when Lincoln was a youngster. While that trip etched many ivory columns and marble statues into his memory, as a dad it was enjoyable to watch his young adult face light-up as he once again came face-to-face with the beautiful monuments and other pieces of history. Obviously, the memorial dedicated to his namesake, Abraham Lincoln, is his favorite, and we got to see it illuminated in colors of spectacular fireworks during Thursday night’s inaugural welcome celebration that featured Oklahoma’s own Toby Keith as the headliner. This was where we captured our first glimpse of the country’s new first family.
Uber was our transportation of choice, and Friday morning’s driver got us as close to the action as he possibly could. The 6:30 a.m. walk wasn’t too bad as we followed signs to our section — not a seating section, but a standing section! We were in place, very near the front of our boundary (just a little over a football field’s distance away from the big wigs) by 7 a.m. where we stood for the next five hours. The crowds were calm, yet excited, and friendly...and this was the place where genuine patriotism came to life.
Conversations were started up throughout the crowd of tens of thousands. Since our elbows were touching, I figured I should introduce myself to the fella next to me. So, while I was listening to a radiologist from Georgia tell me why he voted for Trump, I could hear a group behind me listening to an enthusiastic young businessman from New Jersey talking about how he hopes his third-generation family business will thrive under the new administration and I heard Lincoln on my other side talking to another young man about the day’s hot topics. Throughout the waiting period, there were random shout outs of “USA! USA!” ranging in various tones and levels of enthusiasm from the edges of the fence lines to the center and all points in between. Red was the obvious color of choice as Trump-like baseball caps proclaimed his mantra, “Make America Great Again.” The stars and stripes were generously used in all types and styles of hats, stocking caps, scarves, shirts, pants, socks and jackets. American flags and Trump flags were draped over shoulders like shawls. This was a true slice of Americana...at its best...peacefully assembling for hours to witness a few minutes of history unfold before our eyes.
The long wait was softened with fun facts and various videos being televised on jumbo tron monitors. At 9:30 a.m. the official welcome was made and choral-style music got underway. An hour later, special guests taking their place near the presidential lectern were introduced. Jimmy and Rosalynn received a polite welcome, George W. and Laura got a rock-star like welcome, the Trump and Pence children were cheered, but, you guessed it, as the Clintons were introduced, most in this mild-mannered patriotic-clad crowd let loose in a chorus of boo’s. Like her nor not, I admired the fact that Hillary was there; taking part in the day’s events that she had envisioned to be her own, couldn’t have been easy. So, there were no boo’s from me (at least not verbally)!
As time drew near for the swearing in, the crowd, made up, obviously, of mostly Trump supporters, gave a tepid welcome to the Obamas, but went a little crazy with excitement for Melania, and lifted the octaves even higher when Donald P. Trump made his grand entrance.
Soaking it all in, was the best part for me. I truly believe I’d have felt the same sense of patriotism if I’d been there eight years earlier. The awe factor, at least for me, wasn’t Trump, but the realization I was standing on the U.S. Capitol grounds watching a peaceful transfer of power between opposing administrations. Remarkable, really. Tradition...and government at its best. Democracy at work.
As Trump boldly proclaimed his agenda for America, I watched as my son winced a few times at things he was hearing and found it interesting as he took exception with some of the new president’s proposals and promises. He reminded me that it was his mother and I who had taught him to always consider the plight of others...and the importance of sometimes putting others’ needs before our own. Hearing Trump’s “it’s all about me” and “we must always be number one” remarks caused him pause. It was as if the gears and cogs of his thought processes were clashing and grinding a bit as he worked through the formulation of his own convictions and opinions while considering what the next four years might be like.
At the ceremony’s end, we slowly made our way through the maze of security fences and blockades in search of food, drink, souvenirs and a resting place for our weary feet. It was clear we both knew we had just witnessed something very special. In the midst of the busy crowd there seemed to be almost a hush. I think we could all hear the ringing of freedom.