I watched the 17 January 2021 episode of 60 Minutes the next morning while exercising on my elliptical trainer, a fairly common Monday morning routine. Two of their stories from the previous night were on political events – preparations for Wednesday’s inauguration, and what happened on 6 January 2021. I’ve already written about the coup attempt in my essay entitled “6 January 2021: An American Story,” so that’s not my focus here. Instead, the first 60 Minutes segment, “Against All Enemies,” hit me particularly hard.
I used to travel to the D.C. area frequently early in my career. Over the course of one 12 year assignment, about 4 ½ of those years were spent just outside the beltway in one week to multiple month intervals. Having been in the area, I was able to spend a fair amount of my off time wandering around Washington, D.C. I loved that city. There’s so much history and so many important things to see and experience. I can’t count the number of hours I spent in the National Air and Space Museum (NASM for those in the know). I’ve previously written about getting to spend an afternoon watching the Senate in action from the gallery before I started on the project that would frequently send me to the region. That afternoon in the Senate gallery is also a very special memory. During one of my extended business trips, a small piece of my team decided one Friday, after an extremely long work week, to head down to the Pentagon to take the public tour. That was an experience I’ll also never forget, and it didn’t require any special planning. The four of us just jumped on Metro, got off at the Pentagon station, and we were able to get into a tour that afternoon. The museum quality displays along the hallways documenting the history from inside that building were breathtaking. Our young guide, an Army Specialist, was extremely engaging, sharing his extensive knowledge of the Pentagon mostly while walking backwards at an impressive clip so that he could keep an eye on the tour group. It was as much fun watching him as it was seeing everything along our path.
The opening story about the inaugural preparations from the 17 January 2021 installment of 60 Minutes showed a very different Washington, D.C. The preparations for what should be a celebration enjoyed by the entire country instead look like something from a war torn nation. About 25,000 National Guard troops are being deployed to the District to protect the inaugural participants and prevent another occurrence of what happened on 6 January 2021. This is at least two and a half times the number of Guard troops usually on hand for U.S. Presidential Inaugurations. The public areas of the D.C. mall and federal buildings are closed except to a small number of carefully screened, pre-approved guests. While there are always security concerns for events of this nature, there has never been the need for the types of security being implemented this time, not because of the pandemic, but because of the potential for uprising based on recent events.
That we’ve gotten here isn’t surprising. It is; however, very disappointing. Our nation’s story has been spiraling out of control for some time. I truly hope that this week marks a new beginning that will allow us to become a better and kinder nation because we have to live together. A lot changed on 11 September 2001 when we were attacked from the outside. As a result, many of the things I was able to do on my travels in years past are no longer accessible to the public, and that is a tragedy. The truly heartbreaking thing about recent events is that they weren’t an act of foreign aggression. What we’ve been living through recently are Americans attacking other Americans. We are doing this to ourselves, and we need it to stop.
We need to return to being a nation of laws, not lawlessness. We need to work toward the ideal of everyone being equal before the law, not lifting some above it or pushing others below it. Those who have abused or broken the law need to be held to account no matter their station in life. Just as importantly, we need to care about more than ourselves individually if we are move past the ravages of the pandemic and the ideological chasm that separates us. The individual freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution mean nothing if they are used as weapons to destroy each other.
Despite the magnitude of the security threats facing us, this inauguration offers hope that we can change direction and move toward that better nation we seek. The cornerstone of our democracy has always been the peaceful transition of power. In 2020, the voters spoke loudly with the largest percentage turnout of eligible voters since 1900 in a free and fair election. We have an opportunity this week to show the world that the United States of America is still a democracy and a nation of laws.
There are many stories that will be told of this era that haven’t been written yet. There will be plays written and performed in the years to come. There will be history books and novels filling the shelves. It’s up to all of us to ensure that the next part of the story is a positive one. Were 6 January 2021 to be the end point, it would serve to terrify, not inspire. A peaceful transition on Wednesday, 20 January 2021, would instead start a positive new chapter with myriad possibilities. Let’s make this next chapter of our American story one that our children and grandchildren can treasure.
Biden Inauguration Preparation 2021 – Live Updates
Letters From an American – January 6, 2021
Letters From an American – January 18, 2021
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FAQs: 2021 inauguration plans after Capitol riot, amid pandemic
60 Minutes 1/17/2021: Against All Enemies, The Threat, The Comeback
FBI vetting Guard troops in DC amid fears of insider attack
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[…] wrote another commentary about the preparations for the Biden Inauguration taking place just two weeks after the unthinkable. Although security concerns were many, and the […]