18 January, 2010Issue 11.1North AmericaPhoto Essays

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Impressions of an Inauguration

Tim Fernando & Andrew Hammond

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Washington, USA—Alexis de Tocqueville, that remarkable early student of the United States, identified “the great privilege of the Americans” to lie not in their being more enlightened than other nations, “but in their being able to repair the faults they may commit”.

Many saw the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States as evidence of that country’s capacity to change. This son of a Kenyan and a Kansan waged a campaign that defeated a national politician who would have been the nation’s first female head of state as well as a maverick, a bona fide war hero. He did it all 40 short years after the assassination of the incomparable Dr Martin Luther King Jr. But this newly inaugurated president was the first to acknowledge that he did not, in fact, do it all.

His victory in November 2008 was won by the hundreds of thousands of Americans who volunteered and donated to his campaign. His election was the outcome of a pitched fight, a raucous crisscrossing of a continent, and a lengthy national conversation. Barack Obama’s inauguration in January of the following year, then, was as much a celebration of the peaceful transition of power.

Commemorated this week, this inauguration is and always has marked the passing of the office and the administering of the oath, from that citizen previously chosen by his fellow citizens to that citizen newly chosen to serve as president of the United States.

Tim Fernando is an engineer working for Oxford University Computing Services on the Mobile Oxford project. He grew up in the United States, United Kingdom, and Sri Lanka, and has a particular interest in documentary photography.

Andrew Hammond is reading for an MPhil in Comparative Social Policy at St John’s College, Oxford. He is the executive editor of the Oxonian Review.