Nothing Less than a Miracle
By Rep. Kristi Noem
March 4, 1797, marked one of the most important days in American history: the inauguration of our second president and the first transition of power. In the two-plus centuries since, more than three dozen men have stepped aside as George Washington did, watching as their successor placed his hand upon the Bible and promised to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” While the inauguration ritual can seem ordinary to us today, President Ronald Reagan reminded America during his 1981 inaugural address that “this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”
January 20, 2017, will mark the first time I get to observe this “normal miracle” up close. I’ll have the opportunity to sit behind President-elect Trump on a stage built at the doorstep of the people’s legislative house, the U.S. Capitol, as Chief Justice Roberts administers the 35-word Oath of Office. It’s a rare meeting of the federal government’s three branches and a powerful symbol of our constitutional government.
Behind us, five American flags will be hung. At the center, our current flag with 50 stars to represent the Union the president-elect will lead today. To the left and right, flags with as many stars as there were states when New York – President-elect Trump’s home state – joined the Union, pointing us back to our roots as a republic. At the far left and right, flags symbolizing our small, yet united, beginning, with 13 stars shaped to form an unending circle.
From this stage to the ceremony itself, Inauguration Day is a moment of unity, joining the past with the present, the states with the federal government, the Executive Branch with the Legislative and Judicial, Republicans with Democrats.
For many, 2016 was one of the ugliest elections of their lifetime. But as divided as we may feel today, America is still rooted in a truth John Adams expressed during his inaugural address: we have a government where those writing and executing our laws are fellow citizens that have been selected “by their neighbors.” This is a government in which we, the people, govern ourselves. It’s a government, not administered by those who were born into power, but by those who were chosen by their neighbors to lead.
As President-elect Trump places his hand on the Bible, the history of America will be laid out before him. From the stage, he’ll be able to see the Lincoln Memorial, a striking symbol of the leadership required to unite a nation. He’ll see the World War II Memorial, which represents America’s power when we work as one while also reminding us all this freedom we enjoy comes at a cost.
Most prominently, the president-elect will see our monument to America’s first president, the man who is often credited with asking: “What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world.”
As I take in this same view on Inauguration Day, George Washington’s example of leadership will not be lost on me. I can’t possibly express how humbled I am to take part in this historic event. After all, it really wasn’t that long ago that I would have been getting ready for calving season, never dreaming I’d be attending a presidential inauguration, sitting in awe of this American routine that is nothing less than a miracle.