The Inauguration Optics
Twenty thousand armed, uniformed National Guard troops have flooded into Washington DC. Streets are blocked with concrete barriers. Exclusion zones are being enforced. Eight foot fences topped with razor wire are in place. A no fly zone is being policed with jet fighters on standby.
Of course national security is important, but has anybody in power stopped to consider the optics? What does this look like? I’m sorry, but it looks like a military regime propping up a tin pot dictator. Didn’t anybody think this through? Rather than a joyful celebration in which the nation gathers to welcome a new president it looks like a frightened elite using military force to back up their unsteady hold on power.
Will we witness the usual parade with the confident president and his first lady striding openly through the streets of the capital, waving to supporters and taking up the reins of power with grace, dignity and a call for unity or will that all be scaled back for security purposes? Instead will we see a gaunt octogenarian and his aging, corrupt congressional cohorts looking out on a disgruntled nation?
Optics Are Everything
In this visual age when pictures and videos tell the story, did anybody stop to think that pictures of armed military and draconian security measures might just be counterproductive?
Did anybody stop to think that perhaps eighty million Americans would not perceive this as “our boys securing our freedoms” but just the opposite? Did anyone perhaps even consider the possibility that such a display of force would plant in the minds of millions of Americans that a police state was just around the corner?
What were the people in power thinking? The point is obvious: they didn’t see it that way. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. One of the signs of the corruption that comes with power is the blindness of pride. The people of the powerful tribe really do believe they are right, and if they are right they must be good, and if they are good, then what they do must be good.
They really can’t see the other point of view and they really, honestly, can’t see the problem. They can’t even see the problem when it is pointed out to them.
At one point during his presidency Donald Trump planned a Fourth of July military parade in Washington. Apparently he wanted to honor America’s service men and women and lay on a patriotic display. Someone discouraged him from doing so. It would be perceived badly.
Military parades are something communists and dictators do. They show off their military muscle. Somebody advised Trump that many Americans perceived him as a Mussolini in waiting — a wannabe dictator, and even though he was commander-in-chief it wasn’t a smart move to lay on a triumphant military parade. It would make him look like some sort of emperor or a ridiculous dictator of a banana republic.
It was a good move. Americans are suspicious of leaders who flaunt their military might. It might not be true to reality, but we like to perceive our world class armed forces as a global peace keeping force — not a dominant military machine, and certainly not the agents of a domestic security force used to control and quash the American people.
Security and Freedom
Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In troubled times the government offers security to its people, but that security has a price.
We all pay the price, for example, when we decide to fly anywhere. By enduring luggage checks, ID cards, stripping off our belts, shoes, jackets and hats to step through a metal detector before being patted down we are sacrificing a little of our freedom to ensure our security in the air.
With the COVID virus, increased violence in our cities and unrest at both extremes of the political spectrum, a pampered people will grab at any security on offer. It is in the interests of those in power to ramp up fear within the population in order to secure not only the people, but also their hold on power.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will soon be our president and vice president. Let us hope calm minds and common sense prevail across the nation … that the people will not misinterpret the security measures in place for the inauguration, and that the fences, razor wire, soldiers and barricades will disappear as quickly as they appeared, and that America’s capitol — and the whole nation will be open again.
Dwight Longenecker’s book Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness explains the root causes of the unrest in our nation and world.