Television makes everything look more glamorous. It is a trick of the light.
There's a lot of talk on a day like today of the pomp and ceremony of state. But there was something charmingly plain about the inaugural ceremony itself. The fanciest thing about it was the heavy paper stock for the tickets (for those who had tickets), with their high-tech security hologram, and the enormously complex identifications badges required for Capitol access. (To get one, you had to go to the Government Printing Office for a fingerprint scan, then sit there until the F.B.I. ran your prints through their databases back in West Virginia, clearing the agent in Washington to sign off on your credentialing form.) The security perimeters that have turned downtown Washington, D.C., into a semblance of Tampa or Charlotte during the national political conventions may be complicated affairs to staff and build, but the American security state when it descends upon a town also has all the majesty of a T.S.A. screening station, perhaps in unconscious honor of our Puritan ancestors' rebellion against finery and design.
At the inauguration, those who had seats all sat in the same black plastic "Eventwares" chairs ("as low as $10.95" online). Many stood near the stage, as well as above it, and in standing-room only throngs that stretched back to the Washington Monument and beyond. They'd begun their day early, then stood or sat in the cold for hours (though the day began promisingly bright, the temperature dipped and the crowd started shivering by noon) to catch a direct or jumbotron glimpse of a ceremony that itself lasted less time than the wait for it. Cellphone signals crashed, and thousands of Twitpics and texts were doubtless left unsent.
Reporters compared notes about Inaugurations past -- that time it was 10 degrees colder, or that time it rained and the ground below the high-dollar donors turned to mud -- and complained of the challenges of finding a story on a day designed for, as one put it, "Savannah and Norah and Matt Lauer."
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, gave the tradition affirmation of America's peaceful transfer of power. "How remarkable that
this has survived for so long in such a complex country with so much
power at stake -- this freedom to vote for our leaders and the restraint
to respect the results," he said.
Power of a different sort was all around in the personalities near the stage, from former president Clinton to the Supreme Court justices and members of Congress to Cyndi Lauper and Eva Longoria. Beyonce, the internationally famous singer, belted out "The Star-Spangled Banner" that closed a ceremony that opened with an invocation by Myrlie Evers-Williams, whose life stands as testament to a different sort of power -- that of citizens.