Somewhere in London right now is a nameless, faceless bureaucrat punching tons above his weight class as he struggles mightily to corral monarchs, heads of state, and plenipotentiaries. Each of them is a petty king or queen in their own realm and unaccustomed to going second to anyone. But our bureaucrat will be responsible for ensuring their good behavior if only for an hour or two.
No one will ever know who he is or what he’s done… unless the wheels fall off and blame must find a home. Tomorrow the world will watch the spectacle of Britain honoring one of its most favored daughters. The watching world won’t know or care how the show was made or anything at all about the bureaucrat.
It’s cold comfort, but I’ll know. Or at least I’ll have the barest inkling of what’s gone into making sure the spectacle looks effortless. I’ll marvel at the effort, the sleepless nights, and the frenetic pace. Though you’ll remain forever unknown, I’ll salute you.
While the airwaves are filled with commentators, opinion makers, protestors, and politicians both for and against, the one certainty is that in just about 87 hours President-Elect Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United
States. Baring something unprecedented and unforeseen, he will be president, notwithstanding the calls of “not my president,” “not your president,” whatever. He’s going to be sworn and take office. Whether you voted for him or not, whether you find him appealing or appalling, whether you march in protest or toast the victory, this inauguration will roll forward with every bit of pomp and ceremony officialdom of the United States can muster.
Despite my grave disquiet at being out among large groups of people, I’ve attended two inaugurations. The first, in 2001 was the last staged in the era before “big terror” was an issue. The crowds came and went and security was the occasional glimpse of a rooftop sniper or mounted police officer working through the throng. The second, four years later was the first inauguration of metal detectors, fenced pens, and bomb sniffing dogs. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.
I can’t imagine a circumstance where I’ll ever attend another inauguration in person. I’ve not got enough patience now for the crowds or the five hundred yard wait to process through security. Sill, though, it’s one of those uniquely American experience I’m glad I’ve had. Standing on The Mall, half frozen, the 21-gun salute booming in your chest, the simple and utterly remarkable act of a peaceful transfer of power, and the sense that what you’ve just been a small part of is something historic is a moment that sticks with you.
We here in this happy land may have thrown off the cloak of monarchy in our long ago fit of revolutionary anger. The inauguration of our president, though, is one of those rare moments in the life of the republic when we give ourselves over fully to the purely ceremonial; when we celebrate the office if not the man. It’s really something to see and an American experience worth having, regardless of party affiliation.
Picture it… a semi-lit auditorium fills nearly to capacity, the public address system crackles to life, and a hush falls over the 600 gathered seat-fillers. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please,” the disembodied voice implores. “Today’s ceremony is an outdoor event being held indoors.”
And that’s the point where they lost me. The longer my career runs, you see, the more I come to realize it’s largely been a series of ridiculous propositions. As a writer I recognize that words are powerful. They are precise and have meaning. In the best tradition of the bureaucracy, however, the actual meaning of the words has little to no applicability to how we chose to use – or abuse – them on a daily basis.
By nothing more than an announcement from the podium, all of us in a partially filled auditorium collectively accepted that for all official purposes we were sitting outdoors. The sun was officially shining. The colors were officially fluttering in the breeze. They were decidedly not hanging limp and sodden from their staff. There absolutely was not official mud on the sidewalks from having bleachers towed into position during a driving rainstorm. Mud, droopy flags, and indoor ceremonies, you may know, never officially exist. They’re simply a figment of our collective, unofficial, imagination and a blatant violation of policy.
Why, you ask, perform the linguistic gymnastics of engaging in an indoor outdoor ceremony? As best I can tell it’s so the small group assembled on stage didn’t have to take off their hats. When you make the case thusly, how can it make anything other than absolutely perfect sense.
Experience has taught me that it helps dramatically if you’re willing to completely suspend disbelief for at least eight hours daily. On the other hand, if you you’re unwilling, it’s the kind of thing that might just drive a man to drink.
The week to date has been all about variations on a theme. Unfortunately, the theme of the week has been “everything is going to turn to a giant steaming pile of shit in your hands.” Today’s example comes in the form of a not inconsequential event in the life of a typical big government organization. It’s not uncommon to start planning for something like this many months in advance. By the time you get down to the few days before the thing actually kicks off, you should mostly be down to making sure the details are covered.
What you shouldn’t be doing three days before the big show is deciding that while the plan to do everything indoors has been well and good for the last two months, what we really should do is throw most of those plans over the side and instead plan on doing it outside, open to the weather, and subject to whatever nature decides to throw at you that day. That’s a fine enough approach if you’ve had months to do all the extra planning that goes into having an outdoor event, but it rarely leads to good things when it’s sprung on you with way, way less than a week to go. What you end up with under those circumstances is a Frankenstein’s monster tossed together with whatever parts and pieces you’re able to get your hands on without prior notice. Those pieces are generally not ideal.
So, we spent most of the day today inventing Plan B as we implemented it, making up details up as we went along, and having a vague hope that it all might hold together just long enough to get through the next few days. If history is any guide, the wheels will come flying off sometime late Friday afternoon, so there’s that on the horizon. It would certainly be in keeping with the week’s theme.
The only up side that I can see is that by this time next week it’s all going to be over no matter how badly we botch the implementation. Many years ago, one of my fellow teachers was fond of saying “the important part is setting your goals low and achieving them.” If his advice doesn’t apply here, it doesn’t apply anywhere.