Eight years ago, on the occasion of Barack Obama's first inauguration, I drew inspiration from the safe landing of US Air Flight 1549 in the cold Hudson River, and the courage of the pilots, crew, passengers, and rescue workers that day. In January 2009, the country was still in mid-shock from the economic recession that would suck trillions form the economy and wreck millions of lives, but the election of Obama and the image of a damaged plane landing safely were powerful symbols of hope.
As I wrote in 2009,
Inauguration, as it has come to mean today, indicates the formal installation of a new leader, especially a head of state. Its roots, however, trace to the Latin inaugurare, to "take omens from the flight of birds, consecrate or install when such omens are favorable." The events of last week, involving the convergent flight of two “birds,” (a flock of geese and a commercial airliner) provide us with the opportunity to put this “omen” into a larger narrative about the skills and mindset needed to navigate the precarious futures that lie before us.
With the inauguration of Donald Trump, there is a decidedly different feeling, in myself, and for a large segment of the population. The omens from the birds do not seem as favorable. In fact, as I compare these two inaugurations, and think back US Air 1549, I feel less connection to the people aboard the plane and more empathy for the geese that were sucked into the engines. They were innocently going about their lives when a giant mechanical monster emerged to destroy them. The looming presidency of Donald Trump is the plane, and millions of innocent people are the geese. I'm not sure what will happen next. Maybe the geese can find a way to fly out of the path of the plane. Maybe some will turn directly toward the engines in a kamikaze mission to take it down.
Either way, maybe we should have listened to the birds sooner?