The first time I visited Washington D.C. was as part of a special trip to the nation’s capital for the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005. I was a senior in high school. It was both nerve-wracking and exciting to receive an invitation to such a significant event.
Looking back, it was also one of the more divisive times in American political history, much like today.
The invitation to attend came from the People to People Program, which I had participated in for the previous two years, traveling to eight countries throughout Europe. For an aspiring historian, it was a wonderful opportunity, especially since we got to visit Athens right before the 2004 Olympics. My official Olympics memorabilia is something I still treasure.
My trip to attend the inauguration was covered in my small-town newspaper, a clipping of it my mom recently came across while going through my grandmother’s things after she passed away in December.
“I was really, really excited because not a lot of people get to go to something like this,” I said at the time to the reporter.
The reporter also wrote, “Raymer said she and her family are fans of Bush because of their shared Christian values. And what would she like to say to the president? ‘Thank you for taking on the job of leading such a great country.’”
Reading it today after so many years, it brings a smile to my face.
But in my little town in the Pacific Northwest, that was not a popular opinion. A rather liberal community, most in the area despised Bush and his policies, especially regarding the war in Iraq.
The trip eventually became the subject of my senior project, which was a bit of a risk since the grading would be performed by members of the community. As part of the assignment, I did a lot of research about the inauguration. Perhaps the most important lesson, and what I remember the most, is how to spell inauguration. (Spelling has never been my strength.)
The inauguration is something that I don’t recall as clearly as I would like, and I actually lost track of most of my pictures. I remember that we had to get there early, in order to get through the additional security procedures set up after 9/11. According to the very official-looking invitation that I still have, we were allowed to stand in the “gold” area.
It had snowed at some point in the days before, and we spent most of that time standing on it for hours as our feet became progressively colder to the point of numbness. And as the ceremony itself came closer, the crowd kept filling in and it became more difficult to move.
But despite the discomfort of that cold Thursday morning, the ceremony itself was lovely. I particularly remember holding up my pink Razr Motorola cellphone so my mom could listen to Billy Graham address the crowd and pray.
After the official swearing-in ceremony, we headed over to the entrance for the parade, but eventually had to abandon our efforts to get in. The terrorist attacks in 2001 introduced a new level of security concerns, much like in 2021.
Amusingly enough, the biggest problem was the weather, which scrapped our planned trip to Montecito and Red Hill.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip, and something I look back to with fondness, but the nation definitely wasn’t united behind the latest president, much like 2016.
Two college students in the crowd with my large group were anti-Bush.
One of the community reviewers for my senior project gave me a fairly low grade without explanation. I believed then and now that he did so, in part, just because of who was being inaugurated. If the report had been on Trump, I’m sure the vitriol towards the subject matter would be even more intense.
It’s an interesting reminder that it’s not easy to stand up for what you believe or who you support, and something Christians and conservatives experience now more than ever.
When I started to reflect on the 2005 inauguration this morning, I was struck by how things have both changed and remained the same. It’s sad to see the partisan atmosphere that developed during the presidency of George W. Bush not only linger but intensify. The country is more divided than ever before, and there is no indication that this will end any time soon.
But, at the same time, the historic tradition of inaugurating a new president remains consistent. Things may have looked significantly different this year, but the tradition of a peaceful transition of power continued.
But while some may mourn what the incoming administration will do, especially when it comes to life, religious freedom, LGBT and other issues, it’s also a great opportunity to pray for the future, as George Washington himself did.
In his first inaugural address, our nation’s first president said, “Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow- citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”
Photo from Douliery-Khayat/ABACA USA/REUTERS