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In Your Face, Free Republic!

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I do not begrudge anyone a celebration. Frequently I lament the absence of joy in a world preoccupied with the notion that someone somewhere might be hurt by a flash of exuberance.

The trick is to choose carefully what one celebrates. Victories deserve parties. Conducting business does not. An inauguration is just business. Victory came on election night. Yesterday seems comparable to a newly-hired cubicle worker inviting all his pals over to watch him fill out his W-4.

Perhaps the non-violent transfer of government executive power is a bit more significant than choosing the number of deduction to claim for payroll. For such things we have ceremony. Important events are marked by ritual. We wear our best clothes to church and the priest leads us in repetition of a creed around which we aim to align our lives. The process reminds us of the primary importance of this weekly event above our other routines.

I may have chosen a poor example, though. Some congregations make their weekly rituals into boisterous celebrations. Members of such groups, I think, are blessed. Because the world needs more joy. Whether the joy arises from a the home team winning the trophy or from a weekly communion with the Universal Love, again, I do not begrudge the celebration.

So I am at a point of distinction. Is an inauguration a ritual of republican government, or is it a victory party? Can it be both?

I suppose that depends on one’s conception of government. If it is about gaining the power to make the nation more conforming to one’s vision, then a like-minded fellow swearing the oath of leadership is the culmination of victory. If government is more about performing a set of duties defined by law, then an inauguration is a more somber time. Having won election, that like-minded fellow must now make the impossible choices that come with his office.

The US Constitution was premabled with a lofty conception for a nation. But the body of the document is all about who is empowered to do what. It is a contract—in essence, a document defining the business of government.

TJIC seems to see it much like I do:

I find all US presidential inaugurations to be tacky, horrid, and reeking of an un-American celebration of empire. Roads closed, tens of thousands of armed troops amidst hundreds of thousands of unarmed plebes, the palanquins of the rich and famous given priority access to the public through-ways, restricted access parties where mountains of exotic foodstuffs are consumed - all of it celebrating something (and someone) who produces nothing, but merely (illegitimately) steals from and rules others.

When Rome was a Republic every year two consuls were elected and installed in office with little fanfare.

When Rome was an Empire things were different.

…in fact, things were pretty much identical to how they are in DC this week.

In the way that new hire into a cubicle farm might take his family and friends out for dinner once his W-4 is filled in, to celebrate the official beginning of a new job, a President and his supporters can be allowed an inaugural ball. It is a personal celebration. It is for the victors, and no matter the etiquette, the vanquished understand they are not invited.

The truly inclusive event, the ceremony for all, is the oath-taking ritual. All the rest, the parades, the fanfare, are either institutionalized arrogance when done in the name of the nation, or poor sportsmanship when done in the name of winning team.

Those who lost know they lost. Insistence from the victor that participation in his parade is somehow virtuous and unifying is an insult. And insults smolder. When power changes hands again, human nature will likely lead the next victors to call for an even larger explosion of ego in the name of patriotism.