As I reflect back on this past inauguration weekend, I specifically remember four White House transitions. The first when President Herbert Walker Bush won the White House in 1988, the next, a Republican to Democratic transition with President William Jefferson Clinton in 1993, and then in 2001 when President George W. Bush, Jr. won the White House (with the “hanging chad” debate), and again in 2008 when President Barak Obama captured it back.
And now this one, another, although one that I viewed on and off as millions did, from the television set, like it was the sixties again, and the first man was landing on the moon.
At first crack of trying to express my emotional response, it felt very much the same, even though the news media may give the impression that there are first times for certain momentous inaugural moments. The protests were always brisk from the opposing team who had lost, the loss still so raw in the sinews of the mind that the heart had to protest like a purging of pent-up fury. Like before, like now.The 2001 inaugural was especially heated because of, well, “chad”, which ultimately decided who won Florida and therefore the Electoral College, and with it the election—the centuries-old democratic process, the deciding determinant as to who would rule the nation. The protests were especially broad in 2001. I remember swimming upstream inside of such angst—beyond angst’s reach to fix what it thought should have been different—and understanding the unresolved disdain for the bifurcated system, its own checks and balance of power between the urban populace and the rural rest.
This past weekend, I watched as the Trumps and Obamas walked out of the capitol building, the new president now the world leader, the former one, with his lovely wife, walking to Executive One, no longer Marine One. Oddly, I had the same ping that I had had when president and Mrs. Bush got on the helicopter in 1993, when the Clintons were taking power. I was enlightened by this tug, that Republican or Democrat it was still poignant as the change of power is historic in its peaceful swap. Even though I disagreed with many of his policies and overly burdensome regulatory mandates, President Obama was still my president too. For example, I thought one of the best was to give millions of undocumented long-standing immigrants citizenship, a celebration of America’s hard-working melting pot, who would now work freely, when they already have been, meet American workforce growing demands, and pay taxes. It was overturned but I am still hopeful for redemption for them, even for those this weekend who were denied entry due from some of the most war-torn worlds.
40 Syrian refugees alone are slated this year to relocate in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I am hopeful commonsense compassion resumes it course as the new administration’s footing settles, and certain elements of the recent travel ban are quickly vetted for those immigrants very deserving of refuge – but in the short-term, thank God for Canada’s open arms.
I actually worked on the inaugural committee in 1989, co-editor of the inaugural guidebook – the depiction of all the official inaugural events in a concentrated linear order – location, date, time. We worked night and day and my boss actually would have preferred if we had stayed the night in nearby cots so that we didn’t lose any travel time. Any inaugural only has about a two month planning window. I have a memory of Chuck Norris coming by and encouraging us – it was the 80s, and that was big-time!
In 1989, cell phones were brand new – and I had one as big as a shoe box but so proud to have been “important enough” (a woman of the 80s!) to have been able to use the technological advancement of portal communication. I would have never expected how small phones would become, but then who knows really from day to day with the speed of new sound and spirited inventions.
We staffers were behind the scenes then, as they are now, as you saw them running around last past weekend in the background of the television viewing. Not much really has changed even though everything does. The parade—the same, the presidential viewing box, the lunch, the ceremony, the elegant Balls–
In 1989, in my division, we were also responsible for not only who got invited to the parade viewing box, but its infrastructure as well. It was a very cold day that day in January, and there was no heat in the box (a big mistake!), so the kids, and grandkids and eventually the new president and newly appointed not-yet-confirmed cabinet, as well as press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, and Chief of Staff, Andy Card, eventually left the stands for warmer places. I must admit that I secreted away and watched the parade from the 4th floor of the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House and fell asleep, warm and tired curled up in a large window sill, while the parade was trumping down 16th Pennsylvania Avenue.
That night I attended the ball at the Omni Shoreham with a friend, who was also helping with “advance” work for the newly minted George H.W. Bush. I remember the dark velvety 80s poofy, shoulder-pad extravaganza I wore and my friend running to get me from admiring the ballroom pageantry so we could lead the president to the stage, the dance, and again, out the door. The president had I think 11 or 12 other balls to attend so timing was key.
A funny moment I do remember is when we were leaving seeing the famous Ricky Shroeder, who was the little kid in The Champ and the 80s show, Silver Spoons, very famous at the time, who had found champagne to his liking, getting in a limousine and people running up to him because there was an actor in Hollywood who was actually a Republican. I say that tongue and cheek of course, and yet with full accuracy of my memory of such a time.
There are stories I promise you from this past inaugural, similar to the ones I am sharing with you – richer, funnier, more or less poignant, sorrowful, angst-filled, hopeful, angry, glad or resigned to the fact of the new President. Wherever you stand, in this menagerie of emotion, rest assured that while it all seems new or unexpected, fiery or surreal, a blessing or the apocalypse, the truth is that inaugurals and their “moments” ring with more similarities than differences, even when debating crowd size.
The question now is only—will the new president actually lead and hear and perform around his “messaging” in concert with the “forgotten man and woman.” An editorial comment – I do like his unabashed approach of transparency which in my 30 year political tenure has not existed with such potency, good or bad. People do want the truth and he brought an element of this new thematic approach, the irony of it, in boldness to Washington. So now let’s see if “the truth” of something can make better public policy.
A new president comes out firing. And mistakes will be made. Let words and actions evolve with the forces of spiritual, judicial and legislative oversight… Take a deep breath. Wait with every controversy of a promised election. Like his approach or not, let’s see if some of his raw blanket statements blend well for many in a nation of need. Only time will have those secrets, daily revealed now that we are beyond Day one and 100 days ensues.
By Dianne H. Timmering
Stay tuned for more – next blog “Trumped! – these are revolutionary times, where will HC stand or fall?”
Dianne H. Timmering, MBA, MFA, CNA