Saturday, February 24, 2018

'A day of unity'

US Embassy hosts luncheon in honour of Obama's 2nd inauguration


HIS SECOND OATH: US President Barack Obama, left, takes the oath of office as his wife, Michelle, holds the Bible and family and Congressional members look on during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol yesterday in Washington, DC, USA. The oath is administered by US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr, right. —Photo: AFP

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AS in the United States as well as in Tobago, opposing sides must come together after a contentious election.

So noted the US Charge d'Affairs Thomas Smitham as he addressed a luncheon hosted by the US Embassy in honour of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

The embassy hosted a "viewing party" at Sweet Briar Road, St Clair, at which there was a live feed via CNN, of the inauguration ceremony, at which US President Barack Obama took his oath of office at the US Capitol, Washington DC, USA.

Among those present were Hugh Howard, president of the American Chamber of Commerce and political scientist Dr Hamid Ghany from the University of the West Indies.

Smitham, who arrived a little over a month ago to head the embassy, began on a light-hearted note, observing: "I know this is not known as inauguration day here, it is known as THA election day."

He joked that as the people of Tobago were casting their votes, "there was a little event happening in Washington".

"Actually it is quite a big event. But we understand that the election (in Tobago) is at the front and centre of the news," he said.

Noting that it was also Martin Luther King Jr Day, Smitham said it was interesting that the first black president was being sworn in for a second time on Martin Luther King Jr Day, a man who he so admired and who did so much for the country.

He said he had been making the rounds of the morning news shows, trying to emphasise that yesterday was a day of unity in the United States.

"We try to put partisan politics aside for at least a day. And after a tough election campaign, we have come together to celebrate the inauguration of the president. And I think it is maybe an instructive lesson to think about how contentious the THA elections have been and even after the elections are over, you come together and you install a new government and they take power", he said.

Smitham said that while the oath of office was the only thing specified in the American Constitution (with respect to the inauguration), the tradition of parades and inaugural balls, a lunch with members of Congress were things that had come from the beginning of the presidency through the 1950s as the Americans continued to add to the traditions.

The swearing-in ceremony, which has taken place on the west front of the US Capitol building since 1801 with the swearing in of Thomas Jefferson, has been televised since 1949.

He said Obama took the oath of office on two Bibles—one owned by president Abraham Lincoln and one owned by Martin Luther King.

"This day is really a symbolic day to express the unity we sometimes feel in the United States, despite political divisions," he said. He said there were 1.8 million people present. Yesterday's event was smaller—between 600,000 and 800,000 people were expected to attend—making it probably the second biggest crowd to witness an inauguration.

Smitham said Obama's address yesterday was not a big policy address, since that would come in his "State of the Union" address.

"He is looking forward in his second term to consolidating some of the issues and polices he undertook in his first term," he said.

Smitham recalled that he was at the first inauguration and he hoped that there would be warmer weather for this inauguration.