Foundation News

22 January

Reflections on the US Inauguration (Senior Assembly – 19.01.21)

Whole School Senior Assembly on the US Inauguration, led by Mr Doodes (Headmaster) 

Opening address by Will Hunt on ‘The Importance Of Justifying Your Opinion’. 

Firstly, I am really pleased to report that the music department will be organising three virtual concerts that will be released in the second half of term. A young performers concert is open to the lower years and lower remove. The Cleobury concert is for our more experienced musicians from the Lower Remove upwards and finally we shall be presenting a virtual open mic night. Please speak to your music teacher if you would like to participate. The music department will be providing further details about how to record and submit your performances shortly.

At midday tomorrow in Washington DC, under the constitution, the term of office for President Trump comes to an end, and President-elect Biden will take the oath that will make him the 46th President of the United States.

Many of you are at home at the moment, and therefore will be in a position to watch these events live on television. They’ll be broadcast on the BBC and CNN news channels, among others, and the swearing in ceremony takes place at 5pm UK time, so your lessons will have finished and there will be a chance to make a cup of tea and watch the spectacle.

And I urge you to do so. Watching the transfer of power in the most powerful nation on earth is quite a spectacle. Yes, there’s the pageantry, the pomp, the ceremony, the show of military might and the glorification of all things American. But it’s also deeply symbolic, and designed to be the culmination of a political system that roots itself in democracy, the rule of law and the peaceful transfer of power.

Which is why this year’s inauguration will be even more of a spectacle. In every presidential transfer of power in recent memory, the outgoing President has invited the incoming one, with his partner and family, to visit the White House, to talk through the key matters that are pressing, and on the day, before the ceremony, to meet at the famous entrance, and to ride to the Capitol together where one person leaves as private citizen, and the other as the leader of the free world.

Presidents are only allowed to serve two, four year terms of office. When the US constitution was formed Washington, the first President, was determined to ensure that the new nation never became a monarchy, and by walking away from the presidency after his term ended, he set a precedent for the generations to come that this leadership role is finite and determined.

There will tomorrow be no welcome from President Trump, who is the first sitting president since George H W Bush in 1992 to fail to win a second term of office. There will be no welcome of Mrs Trump and Dr Biden at the White House North Portico, no hand shaking for the cameras, no driving up the National Mall together in the President’s limousine, called The Beast, with a sign of unity for the cameras. At the inauguration itself, it will only be Vice President Pence who will bear witness to his, and his President’s, loss of authority and power.

In light of the events of two weeks ago, on the 6th January, the city of Washington DC is on high alert. On that date, as many of you are aware, a riot ensued after a rally held by President Trump, in front of the White House, led to the storming of the Capitol building, the United States’ parliament, and the death of five people. Deemed to be an insurrection, namely a violent uprising against the Government, that was catalysed by the President himself, the House of Representatives, which is American’s House of Commons, decided to formally charge President Trump, and this led to his impeachment. On the back of these events each state across the US has a strong military presence, and in DC alone there are reportedly over 21,000 troops in the capitol, more than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. In light of what happened, many are fearful of further attacks.

And the fear of these attacks, this un-ease throughout the US, is centred around deeds as much as it is words. Despite years of accusing Barack Obama of having faked his own birth documentation, and used racist language throughout the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump was welcomed into the White House, the Oval Office, and given the respects that his position afforded as the future President. Michelle Obama welcomed Melania Trump to what was going to be her new home. The same happened when both Bush families left in 2009 and 1993, when the Clinton’s left in 2001, and even when the Carters, who had faced a bruising campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1980, welcomed them generously in 1981.

Many people have written about Donald Trump’s reaction to his election loss. He has been described by his supporters as determined to root out democracy, to stop the establishment bias against those from the outside – in his words, the people – assuming power. He is adored by millions because they have liked his can-do, no-holes-barred, do-as-I-say approach to American politics.

Other people take a different view. They believe him to be a vainglorious egotist, devoid of any sense of history, place or purpose, whose megalomania on the 6th January nearly took-down the very institution that he was duty bound under the constitution to protect. They have seen his words and his actions in not acknowledging President-elect Joe Biden, nor communicating with his incoming team, as enormously divisive and damaging both to the American brand and the Presidency itself. His words and deeds caused so much concern that to stop more incitement of violence, the communication tool he used to speak directly to his follows – Twitter, Facebook – has been removed.

As all this plays out in from of us tomorrow, it would be a great shame not to play a part of the spectacle, to witness the event. When you are older, you’ll talk to those you love about transformative events of when you were growing up. For me, I look back at the last 40 years and know exactly where I was when I heard that the Falklands conflict had been won, that the Grand Hotel in Brighton had been bombed, that Diana had died, and there are countless more.

Tomorrow, whatever you think of him, his presidency and the leaving of him, you’ll witness the end of one of the most extraordinary and controversial periods of modern American history, the peaceful transfer of power, and the pageantry of a nation that is utterly divided.

But most importantly, tomorrow represents true progress. For the first time in history, a women is going to be sworn in to one of the top jobs in US politics, something that could, in time, pave her way to be the first female US President. And that women isn’t white. Kalama Harris is becoming America’s first female, first Black and first south Asian American vice-president.

And with that milestone in mind, whatever the noise from Donald Trump, whatever the controversy, the impeachments, the insurrection, the disputed election, sit back tomorrow afternoon and enjoy watching Series 46 of the gripping, fascinating, sometimes terrifying, but always unpredictable drama that is The US Presidency.