Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term as president today. The public ceremony is tomorrow, but the official, constitutionally required act will take place today in a private White House ceremony.
I have the honor of attending tomorrow's event. It will actually be the fourth presidential inauguration that I have attended. Before you ask: Yes, all of the inaugurations I have attended have been for Democrats. But each one has been a different experience.
I attended an inauguration for the first time not long after I graduated college. I had been a political science major, so it was awe inspiring to watch the efficiency with which the Capitol thanked an outgoing president for his leadership and celebrated a new president in a peaceful transition of power -- just like it had been described in my textbooks.
The second time I went to an inauguration, I was engaged to be married. So I traveled to Washington with my fiancé. As fate would have it, we were afforded very toney accommodations and had great access as a result of some college classmates who had joined the administration. The circumstances suggested that anything was possible and life with a new wife in the land of opportunity looked full of promise.
My third trip to the inauguration felt like a pilgrimage. My wife, daughter and I drove to Washington with some family friends to see the first African-American be sworn in as president of the United States of America. I had been in Boston for the speech that started the movement. I had been in Denver when he accepted the Democratic nomination on the 45th anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech. I had worked on his campaign for close to a year. Seeing him get sworn in was something I had to do. And as I stood in the bitter, freezing cold with my wife and daughter at noon that Monday, the truism of the American Dream was confirmed for me.
This time is different.
In many ways, it feels like we are all just going through the motions. The inauguration of a president has always been America's single strongest message to the world that we do thing differently. It is a bit of grand theater to show other countries that we are a society of laws, not men; that we are a supremely civil society; that we use ballots, not bullets, to make decisions. However, as each segment of our beloved community seems more separated than ever from the other, the power of that image is diminished. The quadrennial act of theater seems hollow.
For a few hours tomorrow, we will look like one big, happy American family. On Tuesday, more than likely, it will look like Monday never happened.
Our country's history tells us that it does not have to be this way. Tomorrow's inauguration is the perfect place and opportunity to turn the page. I pray that we all choose to do just that for the benefit of everyone in the country we all call home.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.