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Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
Has an Inauguration Day ever looked more like America?
The racial and ethnic and gender diversity: From Kamala Harris, a Black woman of South Asian descent, being sworn in by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, to Jennifer Lopez addressing the crowd in Spanish after singing “This Land is My Land.”
The blended families: President Joe Biden was surrounded by children and grandchildren (“a whole bunch of Bidens,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar called them), from both the late Neilia Hunter Biden and Jill Biden, his wife of 42 years. Harris was accompanied by her stepchildren, the son and daughter of her husband, Doug Emhoff — who are named, by the way, after American jazz greats John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald.
Harris and Emhoff’s mixed-faith marriage — he’s Jewish; she was raised with a mixture of Hinduism and Christianity.
Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s newly appointed transportation secretary, seated next to his husband, Chasten.
Country singer Garth Brook’s gorgeous rendition of “Amazing Grace,” sung in bluejeans.
The nods to those who came before us: National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s breathtaking call to live up to America’s promise. (“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be.”) Harris’ purple coat, which is thought to be a tribute to Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for president. A benediction delivered by the Rev. Silvester Beaman, the pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and a longtime friend of the late Beau Biden.
The sound of somebody’s baby crying in the silent pauses between speakers. (You’re witnessing history, baby!)
All of it painted a full and beautiful portrait.
The world was watching on Wednesday — possibly with bated breath, given the events of the past two weeks. America showed its best, truest self.
“We’ll lead not merely by the example of our power,” Biden told the crowd, “but by the power of our example.”
It was a hopeful sight, this Inauguration Day.
It was also a sobering one. The masks on nearly every face, the absence of jubilant crowds to bear witness, the absence of Biden’s immediate predecessor, the tens of thousands of troops deployed to secure the ceremony. All are reminders of the work ahead and the bitterly divided culture in which that work must take place.
But America’s diversity is its strength, and that diversity and strength were on full display Wednesday, more so than any Inauguration Day I’ve witnessed.
“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,” Gorman recited, “but simply unfinished.”
“And yes,” she continued, “we are far from polished, far from pristine. But that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose.”
Her words were the ceremony’s high point. Her message should be the nation’s pledge, so that our purpose includes, honors and values the lives of all Americans.