The small rituals of the day are both touching and reassuring. They offer perspective on the peaceful transfer of power afforded by the American political system — a perspective of which we’ve had precious little, as the Washington Post, among others, tells us the the new President “could redefine the presidency.” This sort of ludicrous overstatement needs to be curbed by an appropriate respect for our political institutions and by the understanding that each and every president serves in his own way, while the presidency goes on.
As the President meets the President-elect on the steps, you can’t help but be struck by the contrast between the two: reviled and adored, old and young, conservative and liberal (sort of), white and black. Yet, in the larger sense, this has all been done before (since 1877) and will be done again. That’s what this day is truly about: the remarkable mix of tradition and novelty.
The President-elect has dispensed with formal attire. Have we seen the latest of morning coats? Michelle Obama is wearing a lovely gold dress and matching coat, and carrying a gift. Do the incoming President and first lady look different, more “official” somehow? Perhaps we have already started to see them differently. That too is what today is all about.