Nothing could diminish its magnificence.
Not the COVID-19-scattered seating nor the closed National Mall; the absence of an outgoing president nor the troops surrounding the U.S. Capitol; not even the silent and harrowing fear that a shot might ring out as our new president addressed the nation and the world.
The transfer of American power took place peaceably on Wednesday and it was glorious.
It was striking to see the Capitol again, two weeks to the day after the failed insurrection; the grand and historic edifice now adorned with bunting, steps swept of debris, marble walls gleaming. Images of Jan. 6 were almost washed away.
There in the sandstone hallways where the angry rabble raged walked former leaders of our nation, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama to celebrate continuity and support a new beginning. Where there was desecration a fortnight ago, passed a new president and vice president — a woman of African and Asian descent —ready to move our nation forward.
It was heartening to see former Vice President Pence up there, too. Forced to choose between attending former President Donald Trump’s send off and the inauguration — forced to choose between the past and the future — Pence chose the future. His decision was the right one. It will serve him well going forward.
President Joe Biden's remarks were perfect in their simplicity, in their plainness. Stripped from his address was any pomposity or grandeur. His speech in its humility was quintessentially Biden and no one else. That common touch got him elected president at this exact moment in time. It’s what America needs.
President Biden had one overarching request for us; that we re-unify as a nation. He acknowledged the dark forces of resentment and discontent festering among us, but his tone remained optimistic. "Enough of us have to come together," he said, "to carry all of us forward." He is right.
Biden spoke of the disinformation riling the undercurrent of our nation. "There is truth and there are lies," he reminded us. (How could we ever have forgotten?) He acknowledged the special significance of this 59th presidential inauguration to alarmed Americans, and there are many: "If the people see the Capitol goes on, they will see the nation goes on." Indeed.
He spoke to those who didn’t support him, and promised to work for them just as hard as for those who did. He addressed our legitimate philosophical differences and implored that "every disagreement doesn't need to be cause for total war."
"Democracy is precious; democracy is fragile," he said. After Jan. 6, every American now knows that, or should.
It was the Capitol itself, though, that was most striking to this American on Wednesday. It recalled enlightened words from Leo Tolstoy — that "the two most powerful warriors are patience and time." After four years of freneticism and falsehoods, the very permanence of the Capitol and the physical transitioning of the White House gave comfort.
Leaders come and go in our country, while the promise of America remains eternal. It’s a promise etched in our Constitution, a marvel of humankind, and it's what the Capitol walls still tell us after all they just endured. We will go on.
Republicans and Democrats alike celebrated Wednesday's peaceful transfer of power because they are Americans first and foremost. Mankind had never seen such a thing until George Washington and then John Adams voluntarily passed the torch of leadership to another American. It’s what made our nation exceptional in the eyes of the world.
Now we’ve done it again. It should fill each of us with pride and joy. America, and all she represents, marches on toward the light.
William F.B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.