“Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule.”
—President Gerald Ford, in his inauguration speech. August 9th, 1974.
On Friday, a mentally unhinged narcissist will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. This will happen. I will not watch it. I refuse to do so. I take no pride in my country of birth, claim no allegiance to the U.S Constitution for allowing this madman to attain power through its edicts; and I consider this charlatan to be an illegitimate usurper to the founding, guiding principles of the country in which he will be the commander-in-chief.
Yet, despite this, I am still an enthusiastic student of American history. As such, allow me to offer some past examples of U.S. presidential inaugurations and why I think they matter.
April 30th, 1789
The strange new world of American politics was firmly on display when George Washington stepped on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City to take an oath for an office that had never been held and could scantily be defined.
There was little doubt that Washington would be elected as the first president. And his trip to New York, as well as his demeanor during the ceremony, suggested he was an anointed republican king. The Washington “brand” emanated stability.
It is widely believed that Washington added the words “So help me God” to the end of his oath. This apocryphal story has never been fully refuted or affirmed. In fact, no record exists that suggests this term was an official part of the oath. But when you are George Washington you pretty much spent your public life setting precedents that would be adhered to by your successors.
March 4th, 1829
To say that John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson were polar opposites is an understatement. Adams was an intellectual. Jackson was a populist and, quite possibly, mentally insane. Jackson considered himself robbed from being elected president in 1824 in favor of Adams. And the viciously bitter election of 1828 was considered by Jackson the reason for his beloved wife’s death in December of that year.
Adams skipped town before the inauguration. Smart move by a very smart man.
Jackson’s supporters pretty much ran roughshod over Washington, DC. Back then, anyone could go up to the front door of The White House and let themselves in. At a reception held at the White House that night, that is exactly what Jackson’s unruly supporters did.
In short, they got drunk and trashed the place. Apparently, they were mad that a Bruce Springsteen cover band had canceled an appearance. Wait! That is this year. Sorry, I get confused.
What is known is that Jackson left through a side window and had his servants coax the inebriated mob onto Pennsylvania Avenue by moving the liquor out there.
March 4th, 1865
While Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address is justly considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, it was an ominous speech given beforehand that should be remembered in stark contrast, and as an unfortunate foreboding, to what laid ahead.
When Vice-President Andrew Johnson was given the oath for his office in the U.S. Senate chamber he was obviously drunk and disheveled. His speech was incoherent. Johnson, a Democrat added to the ticket with Lincoln in a short-sighted act of national unity, was a highly unlikeable man known for his raging, drunken states.
This precursor of bad things was repeated on April 15th, when Johnson took the presidential oath after Lincoln was murdered. Again, Johnson appeared at the hastily arranged ceremony drunk and disheveled. His brief speech after his swearing-in excoriated the South and set a tone for the next four years, which were amongst the worst in the history of this country.
August 3rd, 1923
No president entered the office playing to their stereotype better than Calvin Coolidge. Upon the shocking death of President Warren Harding the night before, Coolidge was awakened at his father’s Vermont cottage.
The Coolidge home had no electricity and no phone. Coolidge calmly dressed for the event and invited a small band of reporters to bear witness.
The oath of office was administered by Coolidge’s father, who served as a Justice of the Peace. A little-known fact is that there is no guiding rule about who must administer the oath to the incoming president. After the brief ceremony, Coolidge made arrangements for a train to bring him back to Washington, and then he went to bed.
August 9th, 1974
When President William Henry Harrison died in office in 1841 few knew what would happen after. No president had expired in office before him. Vice President John Tyler provided stability to the office by taking the presidential oath and finishing out his predecessor’s term with a firm hand. Outside of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Civil War, there was little question about the fragility of the Constitution until the Watergate scandal that undid Richard Nixon.
The resolve of the country was tested. Articles of impeachment were agreed upon by the Congress. But Nixon claimed he would not leave office. With pressure climbing, Nixon relented. But there was still one odd fact: Vice President Ford had not been elected to his office.
A separate scandal had done in Vice President Spiro Agnew. Ford was put in Agnew’s place. The U.S. was to have a president that came to office due to the resignation of two men riddled with scandal due to criminal acts.
Ford’s inaugural speech was conciliatory, calm, modest and humble. It spoke well of a man who was admired by all who knew him. And, like John Tyler before him, Gerald Ford is owed a great debt for showing through unshakeable integrity that the country goes on, no matter what calamity befalls it.
As stated above, I will not watch the inauguration that is to take place on January 20th, 2017. When the man whom I will refer to in this space as President Sexual Predator has been put into power, the United States of America, the office of the President of the United States and the United States Constitution will, in my expert opinion, be tainted. I still live in this country, as do those I love dearly. So I hope I am wrong about the oncoming apocalypse, for selfish reasons only.
My wish is that when Mike Pence is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States—which will most likely happen way before January 20th, 2021—that the world will survive the cataclysmic event that brought the soon-to-be vice president to power.
May whatever God you believe in help us all.