“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” — Presidential Oath or Affirmation, United States Constitution
Two-hundred-thirty years ago, on April 30, 1789, those words were spoken in an official capacity for the very first time, as George Washington, the duly elected President of the United States, was sworn into office. There had been a few bumps in his processional route from Mount Vernon to New York, but the swearing-in finally took place on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, in front of a large crowd of onlookers. Following the ceremony, Washington went indoors to make his inaugural address to the assembled members of Congress. The day concluded after dark with a few fireworks and cannons.
Such a short time ago. Just 72 years after Washington’s inauguration (in 1861), war broke out between the States. Just 72 years after that (1933), Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. One-hundred-fifteen years after Washington’s inauguration (1904) and halfway between then and now, Theodore Roosevelt became the first President to win election in his own right after having been elevated to the position upon the death of his predecessor (McKinley). And now, 115 years further down the road, here we are with President Donald J. Trump.
In temporal terms, not all that much has passed since that clear and cool April day not quite two-and-a-half centuries ago. My Uncle Arthur (Dad’s brother), who was born in 1907 and died in 2009, had vivid recollection of his great-grandmother Mary, who was born in 1818 and who passed away when he was seven years old. (She was a toddler of almost two when George Washington’s old sparring partner, King George III died!) Both her parents were born before Washington was inaugurated (her father was a teenager at the time), so Arthur could recount first-hand stories given to him by their daughter of people who lived before there ever was a “President of the United States” at all.
Two-hundred-thirty years is a tiny slice of history’s arc, and yet so much has happened. You’d think, with the resources available to us, that we’d have learned something from some of it. Yet, what is happening today may be passé and discredited tomorrow. All we can do is our part and wonder what our descendants, 230 years from now in 2249, will say about us and what we did when it counted. Perhaps my granddaughter, born in 2008 will, like Grandma Mary, live a good, long life, and perhaps her story and our stories will still be being told by old codgers like Uncle Arthur, who listened to them as small children. I hope so. I can only hope we do mostly right by history and that history is kind to us.
NB: the foregoing is based on what I believe to be a fairly solid premise that “Beto” and AOC are wrong, and that we actually do have more than a dozen years left on Earth to sort things out. I can’t prove that, but I feel it in my bones, FWIW. And, of course, if they’re right, none of this matters.