Inauguration in Troubled Times: Looking Back and Looking Forward: Lincoln, FDR and Biden

At noon on Wednesday, January 20th Joe Biden will raise his right hand and repeat the constitutional oath of office.

 “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Twenty-five thousand National Guard troops and thousands of other law enforcement officers will protect the ceremony and Washington DC.

The swearing in ceremony is traditionally followed by a speech laying out the goals of the new administration.

The nation is facing unparalleled crises, the pandemic raging across the nation, cities and states teetering on a fiscal abyss, staggering unemployment, we eagerly await the new administration.

In our new world of social media the Biden team did not wait until the inauguration address, the president-elect announced his plan in detail, as well as summaries of meetings of cabinet-nominees, see meeting with Miguel Cardona here.

Executive orders will roll out of the White House and legislative initiatives: will Congress join with or thwart the president?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took his oath of office on March 4, 1933, the nation in the depths of the Great Depression. The Stock Market crashed on October, 29, 1932; only six months after President Hoover assumed the presidency. Hoover was a traditional Republican; the government had no role in the economic cycles,

… wealth does not live in a vacuum and that people acting in their own self interest will eventually act in the best interests of the greater public good.

FDR and his advisors adopted the economic principles of John Maynard Keynes,

… classical economic theory did not provide a way to end depressions. Keynes argued that uncertainty caused individuals and businesses to stop spending and investing, and government must step in and spend money to get the economy back on track.

Eighty-eight years later many Republicans are still wedded to the economic views of Hoover.

FDR’s inauguration speech was only twenty minutes, watch segments of the speech here.

The speech was soaring,

… first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

threatening Congress to get on board, or else …

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption. But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis — broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

In his First Hundred Days an incredible number of bills became laws, the faith in the nation was restored.

Soon to be President Biden faces a fractured nation, 74 million Americans voted for his opponent and many of them believe the lies and seditious statements of the former occupant of the White House.

On March 4th, 1865, in the waning days of the Civil War, facing a fractured nation, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address.

Lincoln reflected on his first inaugural address.

Does this sound familiar?

While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide …

And evangelicals….

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces;

tough words …

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it [war] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”

Lincoln’s desire to “bind up the nation’s wounds,”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th and Lincoln was assassinated on April 15th 1865.

Would Lincoln have led the nation beyond Jim Crow, we’ll never know ….

Lincoln, FDR, and Joe Biden …. It may seem absurd.

We are at a moment in history,  COVID deaths approaching Civil War deaths, a seemingly endless battle with a persistent, invisible enemy, a nation divided, bitter antagonisms, Lincoln’s words resonate, how do we get beyond the “malice,” can we find “charity for all,”  “bind up the nation’s wounds,” can we “achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Without Lincoln the hopes for a new America disappeared behind Klu Klx Klan robes, we re-enslaved People of Color for more than a century. FDR provided hope, led the world against an assault on democracy around the world, will the heritage of Lincoln and FDR translate to Biden?

Let’s close with MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech”

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