Inauguration Day: Celebrating America

Today is a day for great pride.

Barack Obama will once again take the oath of office as president of the United States at noon. (Because Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday this year, there will be a public celebration of this event Monday, but today is when Obama officially begins his second term as the nation’s chief executive.) The peaceful assumption of great power by a person elected by the nation’s citizenry is truly remarkable.

This feature of life in our country has gone on for so long that most Americans regard it as quite routine. The truth is, however, that the persistence of this extraordinary system of governance is quite unusual. Throughout most of mankind’s history nothing similar existed anywhere. Even in our very modern 21st century, in many lands gaining and keeping political power has very little relationship to the will of the people who reside there.

Americans differ on goals for their communities and the nation as a whole. Hard-fought election battles often involve serious policy disputes and contrasting visions of the future. There is, however, a consensus – so deeply held, there is rarely a need for its articulation – that governing power must be won at the polls. An election defeat leads inevitably to the surrender of the office that has been lost to the electoral winner. To Americans, that concept is absolutely basic. Our politicians disagree about a great deal, but they are united in the belief that no matter how strongly held a political philosophy may be, it can only be imposed here if the people so will it.

Take a few moments today to reflect on the importance to all Americans of the democratic process by which the citizenry determines who will wield presidential power in our nation.