Inauguration Blues

Despite the deepest hopes of many die-hard Trump supporters that the outgoing president would somehow snatch victory from defeat at the eleventh hour, Joe Biden is to be inaugurated today. 

Our second nominally Catholic president shall no doubt wish to ceremonially cloak himself in Kennedy’s mantle; unfortunately for him, both COVID-19 restrictions and the odd cast of characters he or his handlers have chosen for the inaugural floorshow make that extremely unlikely. Where JFK chose the sublime Marian Anderson to sing The Star Spangled Banner, Biden has given that honour to Lady Gaga; instead of the venerable Robert Frost intoning his The Gift Outright, a paean to American exceptionalism, we’ll be treated to 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, whose work “touches on issues of race, feminism, oppression, and marginalization. There is a bit of continuity here in that the Californian is also, as was Kennedy, a Harvard grad. 

Additionally, the invocation shall be given by a court chaplain of undeniable family loyalty if questionable Catholicity. In 1960, it was Boston’s Richard Cardinal Cushing; this year, it shall be former Georgetown University president Leo T. O’Donovan, S.J. A student of Karl Rahner, Father O’Donovan’s tenure as prexy on the Potomac was marked by his permitting a pro-abortion student group to operate on campus with University funding (which the Holy See forced him to stop), and opening Georgetown to fetal tissue research.

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Of course, much has changed in Inaugural protocol and in the nation at large—to say nothing of the presidency—since Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.’s lifelong dream of getting a son of his into the White House was realised. Ever since 1933, most presidents-elect have attended a church service of some kind on the morning before the actual ceremony—services that are usually held at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, the so-called “church of the Presidents.” JFK opted for Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown; at this writing, Uncle Joe is also slated to attend Mass, but the location is not yet known. There is speculation that his favorite hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” shall be featured.

Whatever decision may be made there, it shall be a much smaller ceremony than normal, in deference to COVID-19 and fear of Trump supporters. Each of the 25,000 National Guardsmen deployed to protect the ceremony shall be vetted individually by the FBI. The crowd shall be much smaller; each Congressman and Senator is allowed one guest, so expect a turnout along the lines of the State of the Union address. President Trump shall leave by helicopter in the morning, rather than accompanying his successor to the ritual itself. This shall take place at the usual locale on the west front of the Capitol building with the cast of characters earlier mentioned, as well as Reverend Silvester Beaman, the Pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and another close Biden family cleric. 

Then shall follow a military pass in review by various local military units, a wreath laying at Arlington, and a short parade to the White House. In place of the huge parade normally done to honour inaugurations, there shall be a virtual “parade across America” featuring various acts in different locales. Rather than the traditional inaugural balls, there shall be a 90-minute Celebrating America Primetime Special, hosted by Tom Hanks live on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, and PBS. The entertainment on that special shall include Ant Clemons, Jon Bon Jovi, the Foo Fighters, John Legend, Eva Longoria, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, and Kerry Washington. This entire mixture of real and cyber-ceremony shall be dedicated to the themes Biden plans to touch on in his inaugural address: “…defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation.”

However that may be, for believing Catholics, inauguration day is a perfect symbol of what they may expect at the hands of their putative co-religionist once he is ensconced in the White House. While Biden’s views are as violently pro-abortion as those of the late Congressman Robert Drinan, S.J., the Catholic hierarchy in America and in Rome shall for the most part go along with the charade of his “devout Catholicity.” We are already bombarded with newspapers and other media going on and on about it—the Washington Post ran a particularly fawning article on January 17, whose headline really told it all: “Joe Biden’s Catholicism is all about healing. Now, he will lead a suffering America.” Of course, back on December 9, the same…er…journal ran another, even more revealing headline: Biden could redefine what it means to be a Catholic in good standing.” Given the attitudes toward him shown by the most influential members of the Church hierarchy, this is quite a frightening prospect.

Without a doubt, those who hold to the Church’s teachings on social issues will be called divisive—and Joe’s continued popularity with the dominant set of elderly clerics will reinforce that message from within. Back on July 8, when the Little Sisters of the Poor won their case at the Supreme Court, Joe pledged to reinstate Obama-era policies requiring the Sisters to ensure access to birth control and abortifacients for employees in violation of their Catholic Faith. To show he means to keep this sacred vow, his choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services is California State Attorney General (and Kamala Harris’ successor in that office) Xavier Bercerra. Another pro-abortion “Catholic,” he sued the Little Sisters of the Poor for not accepting the Obamacare contraception requirement, and rigorously prosecuted Daniel Daleiden and associates for their exposure of Planned Parenthood. Despite his record, Bercerra joins his new boss in trumpeting his Catholic Faith, calling it his “North Star” on Twitter.

The dreary litany of Judases continues with “Irish Catholic” Marty Walsh, Biden’s pick for Secretary of Labor—dubbed “the most militantly pro-abortion mayor in the history of the City of Boston” by the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. Of a long list of pro-abortion actions His…um…Honor has taken, perhaps the most symbolically egregious was in June of 2017, when “Walsh renamed Worcester Square in the city’s South End in honor the infamous abortionist, Doctor Kenneth Edelin, who was convicted of manslaughter in 1975 after suffocating a baby during a botched abortion.” Mind you, back in 2001, when he was a representative from Dorchester, he told the Boston Herald that he was “personally pro-life.” As with Biden and Bercerra, Walsh lauds himself, and is lauded for his “deep Catholicism” by the media and other establishment sources. Not too surprisingly, he is a product of the Jesuit Boston College.

The new Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, has been the commissioner of Connecticut’s public schools until accepting the new gig. Now, to be honest, any state public school apparatchik would arouse my suspicion. But back in 2011, Cardona’s doctoral thesis was aimed at “advancing principles of social justice leadership” in schools, in order to supposedly “create equitable outcomes for all students.” He has just required all High Schools in the Nutmeg State to offer African American, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies. The approved curriculum declares that this is to “Analyze how race, power, and privilege influence group access to citizenship, civil rights, and economic power.” In other words, the same dreary, critical theory drivel that has slowly gathered strength over the past decade, only to explode throughout academia and elsewhere last summer after George Floyd’s death. Bad as it has been, one can only imagine what having an open purveyor of that sort of nonsense at the head of the nation’s education industry shall mean.

Lest one think that the hierarchy as a whole are not offering meaningful guidance during this difficult period, the USCCB has provided liturgical guidance for Inauguration Day. Therein we are told that “The inauguration of the President of the United States is a particularly significant moment which draws the attention of all citizens of our land. It is fitting that the prayer of the Church, particularly gathered at the Eucharist, be attuned to the occasion.” After noting the Saints of the day (Fabian and Sebastian,) the Conference further informs us: “In addition, Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions chosen by the Priest Celebrant in favor of the devotion of the people are permitted on this day. In particular, the following formularies might be considered: #21: For the Nation or State; #22: For Those in Public Office; #24: For the Head of State or Ruler; #29: For the Progress of Peoples; #30: For the Preservation of Peace and Justice.” Given the nature of the ideology animating the new administration, perhaps a more appropriate offering would be for the Extraordinary Form’s Votive Mass, “Against the Heathen.”

[Photo Credit: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images]


  • Charles Coulombe

    Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine’s European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan’s Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

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