THERE WERE not the historic numbers that four years ago watched Barack Obama take the oath of office to become this country’s first African American president, but everywhere you looked around Washington on Monday, there were people. Hundreds of thousands of them overflowed the grand expanse of the Mall and lined Pennsylvania Avenue to be part of a ritual American moment. That it was also a day to be enjoyed and remembered is testament to their good spirits and the largely glitch-free planning by a phalanx of local, regional and federal officials.
“It’s part of being an American” is how Iris Murdock characterized the experience, describing for The Post’s Debbi Wilgoren an early-morning trek in the cold to the inaugural from Baltimore. Monday’s numbers didn’t approach the 1.8 million who attended Mr. Obama’s 2009 inauguration, but the crowd was reported to be one of the largest ever to witness a second inauguration. Even before the ceremonies got underway at the Capitol’s West Front, the National Park Service deemed the Mall “full and closed,” with visitors being directed to an overflow area beyond the Washington Monument.
To be sure, problems did arise throughout the day. The most prominent involved Metro, which had issues with overcrowding and equipment that inconvenienced passengers and forced the temporary closure of some stations. A giant video screen near the monument failed, depriving a disappointed crowd of hearing the president being sworn in, and there were long lines at some security checkpoints. Thankfully, though, there were no fiascoes like the 2009 “Purple Tunnel of Doom,” where hundreds of ticket-holders were trapped in the Third Street tunnel and missed the ceremony. Organizers learned from their mistakes, and it was good to see the different agencies with a role in the events cooperating with each other, rather than blaming each other, as they have at times in the past.
No doubt this year’s inauguration felt different than the one of four years ago. Less “buoyant and jubilant” is how one inaugural-goer contrasted it to 2009. But there is no denying the power of Monday’s ceremonies, made all the more poignant because they coincided with the holiday celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose work — as celebrated by Monday’s wonderfully diverse crowd — helped make possible Mr. Obama’s election.
It’s easy for Americans to take for granted their quadrennial renewal of democracy, the peaceful acceptance by the losing side that knows, for certain, it will have another chance. Monday’s ritual reminds us to celebrate this inevitability, which people in many other countries can only envy.