After the bruising words and events of the past 4 plus years, it was important to see the better side of the United States on display yesterday at the Presidential Inauguration.
The optimism was perhaps a bit forced this time, the usual nationalist note more questionable. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one heckling Biden’s rhetorical flourishes. The colourful figure of young poet Amanda Gorman was a superb counterpoint – almost an ironic comment on that aspect….
Such events (and the State of the Union Message) are important opportunities for countries to remind themselves of – if not refresh - their values. An opportunity, however, which most countries flunk.
Take, for example, the glitter and pomp of the British Queen’s Speech marking the start of a parliamentary session - when the UK government’s programme is presented. What we actually see are the ermine robes of Lords and Ladies – reminding us that, although the feudal element of the system may now be gone (if very recently), these Lords and Ladies have been elevated to their position by a thoroughly rotten system of appointments - in the gift of a few people…..And of course it’s actually no longer the only show in town – with the Scottish Government since 1999 presenting its own distinctive programme to Scottish society
In a few days (January 25th) we’ll see Scots all over the world coming together to celebrate the Scottish values we’ve long seen as embodied in the life of our national poet, Rabbie Burns. A ploughman and then customs off,icial, Burns wrote in revolutionary times; understood its hypocrisies; and sympathized with its struggles against injustice. Not for nothing did the Russians also take him to their hearts.
It’s puzzling, therefore, that more countries don’t follow suit and have annual celebrations of poets who embody national values such as Shakespeare and Goethe - or even better for my money, Bert Brecht.
Governments always find it impossible to distinguish their own short-term political agenda from the deeper issue of national identity – witness the mess Gordon Brown made of the debate about British identity.
For my money, the only country which has managed to create a mechanism which gives the opportunity for a proper expression of moral values is…..Germany whose apolitical Presidential addresses have, since Richard von Weizsaecker, had great power