President Obama’s inauguration and messages of unity

Published: January 22, 2013
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From left: President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha Obama, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. PHOTO: REUTERS

From left: President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha Obama, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. PHOTO: REUTERS Constitution required the president to take oath on January 20, main ceremony on Monday.

The 44th President of the United States was publicly sworn in to his second term on Monday, January 21, 2013.

It was the second time, in as many days. Because the constitution demands an official swearing in ceremony to take place on January 20, both Vice President Joseph Biden and President Obama took part in a quiet ceremony the day before.

President Obama became the 17th President to have started a second term in office, following in the footsteps of former President George Bush and Bill Clinton.

800,000 people — young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, Black and White, Asian and Hispanic — cheered and waved a sea of American flags, symbolising just how far this country has come since the days of slavery and segregation.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the head of the inaugural committee started the proceeding by relating a story of the construction of the Capitol Dome, marking the unity and togetherness that seemed to be the dominating theme of the inauguration.

In 1863, while the Civil War – which is to-date the bloodiest in American history — was underway, President Abraham Lincoln asked for the construction of the half-finished dome to be completed, in spite of the financial constraints, and the obvious concern over secession.

President Lincoln remarked:

“If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.”

At the completion of the Dome, the Statue of Freedom – a woman – was placed on top of the Capitol Dome, consecrating the enduring legacy and lasting contribution of President Lincoln. The mould for the statue was cast by a former slave, later free American, Phillip Reed.

That historical narrative defined the inaugural festivities: one marked by overcoming the fractious relationships between Congress persons and Senators, their constituencies and the President. The word “together” was repeated seven times in President Obama’s address, more so than any other of note.

He stated:

“Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

A divided nation that values the life of one race over another, one standing over another, one creed over another, is one that is bound by the unusual laws of nature to fall.

This isn’t to note that America is free of the unease that is characteristic of Pakistan. There’s a $16.4 trillion debt, a bloating deficit burden, questions surrounding whether America will pay its obligations to investors, anaemic economic growth, and most of all, growing hostility towards immigrants – the face of the American dream.

What makes America different from Pakistan is that the role of the President to unite the country during times of despair and solemnity is embraced.

During times of intransigence, it is the President who rises above all others to sound the drums of togetherness and stitches the differences that makeup the garment of harmony and union.

That doesn’t mean that President Obama took no bold stances during the address. In stark contrast to inauguration orthodoxy during which differences are not underscored, he made sure to mention the need to timely resolve the debate over climate change and sustainable energy, income inequality and immigration reform.

This is something that our leaders (and yes, I am eyeing President Zardari) have yet to address. What I want more than anything on this day from President Zardari is a national address noting that #WeAreAllHazara.

I want a national address stroking the theme of the growing amicable relationship with India, despite the hiccups over the Line of Control. I want a national address on a need for a coalition government that respects and compromises on issues that make up the very foundations of Pakistan: energy independence, tolerance of minorities, higher education, peace and equality.

It seems that rejecting the unconstitutional clarion calls of Tahirul Qadri, by the leaders of our major parties was a first and required step in coming together and that should characterise the next government.

Read more by Hamza here.

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Hamza Mannan

Hamza Mannan is a freelance writer and his work has appeared across various newspapers.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.