Despite the health and security concerns that kept the usual large crowds away from this week’s swearing-in of a new American president, one Washington community was well represented at the solemn ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol – the diplomatic corps.
For many of them, the ceremony was a moving reaffirmation of the strength and durability of American democracy just 14 days after an insurrection that had shaken both the nation and its allies around the world.
“There are 190 ambassadors in Washington, I would say there were at least 180 ambassadors there,” Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador in the United States, told VOA in a phone interview. “I can’t imagine anybody [who’s invited] not being there, except somebody being sick or something.”
Mulhall said he and the other ambassadors were seated directly in front of the Capitol where President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in. “We had a very good view,” he said. “I certainly was quite moved by the ceremony, by the president’s speech.
“I kept thinking about his great-great-grandparents were born in Ireland and all of them left Ireland, in circumstances of difficulty and deprivation; and to think of their descendant becoming U.S. president was quite moving,” Mulhall said.
"I see the story of the Blewitts & the Finnegans, brought to light by their great-great grandson’s extraordinary success, as emblematic of the larger saga of Irish immigrants in America."— Embassy of Ireland USA (@IrelandEmbUSA) January 20, 2021
Amb @DanMulhall's blog on fellow poetry lover President @JoeBiden
The ambassador added that an Irish violinist had played a passage written by an Irish composer during a Mass attended by Biden, family members and other luminaries at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle hours before the swearing-in.
The day before, Mulhall had met with the violinist and recorded a duet of poetry reading, accompanied by music, for the incoming president.
Irish violinist Patricia Treacy came to the Embassy yesterday and we recorded this W.B. #Yeats poem, ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’ which we dedicate to President @JoeBiden, a fan of Yeats’s work. Patricia will play the violin at today’s #inauguration. @culture_ireland pic.twitter.com/UvBb2Yas4V— Daniel Mulhall (@DanMulhall) January 20, 2021
Martin Weiss represents Austria in Washington. Sitting right before the U.S. Capitol, he said, he was struck by the fact that this celebration of democracy was taking place on the very spot where, two weeks earlier, a riotous mob had attempted to force Congress to overturn the result of the November election.
One “can’t just forget what happened on January 6th; we all have the pictures in the back of our heads … We’ve seen the Capitol – just weeks ago, it looked very different on that day.”
He observed that many speakers spoke of the tragedy and violence that took place, “but then they moved on – in a very American spirit.”
“I was and am deeply moved by the United States of America and the determination of the American people,” said André Haspels, Netherlands’ ambassador, in a written response to questions from VOA. He said he was “impressed by the speed at which the government was able to adapt and produce a ceremony that served to unite the nation as the country makes its way forward.”
Haspels described the U.S. Capitol as “a global symbol of democratic norms and values” and remarked that the resilience displayed by all three branches of the American government – the legislative, judicial and executive – at Wednesday’s event “should serve as notice that American democracy is strong.”
Two weeks ago, America’s democracy was shaken to its core. But today, the US will show its resilience once more. It’s good to attend today’s ceremony at the Capitol, which is and will always be a worldwide symbol of democratic norms and values. #InaugurationDay pic.twitter.com/UdV8IrPGDG— André Haspels (@NLAmbassadorUSA) January 20, 2021
Weiss added that he was heartened by the unity and bipartisanship at the swearing-in ceremony, led by Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Roy Blunt. “After January 6th, who would have thought this was even possible?” Weiss reflected.
“After such a celebratory moment, you get down to the nitty-gritty of politics, then things often get a very different tone; but this is a moment where you have speakers from the Republican party and the Democratic party, you kind of tie it all together for a moment. I think that’s so important that you see this is possible.”
Envoys from around the world posted images of themselves in front of the U.S. Capitol taken on Inauguration Day.
Pleasure to attend the historic ceremony ! https://t.co/TweqATUBJV— Taranjit Singh Sandhu (@SandhuTaranjitS) January 20, 2021
Honored to represent the people and government of Taiwan here at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris. pic.twitter.com/KSatj8vIln— Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (@bikhim) January 20, 2021
Very honored to be attending the inauguration of @JoeBiden as President of the United States. I’m excited to work with his administration to advance a broad and dynamic Brazil-U.S. agenda. @KamalaHarris @ABlinken @Cartajuanero @JohnKerry pic.twitter.com/K53HOS1iiy— Nestor Forster Jr. (@BRAmbassadorUS) January 20, 2021
“To witness history and the transfer of American power in the heart of democracy is a privilege,” Haspels said.
Ambassadors from nearly 200 countries with missions in Washington didn’t receive their invitations to attend the event until last week.
Weiss said he wouldn’t have been surprised if diplomats had been advised that they would have to participate in the event virtually, as has been the case with so many events over the past year. “In corona time, nothing is taken for granted,” he said.
“I think that was a conscious choice, to include the diplomatic corps,” Weiss said, adding that he viewed the invitation from the State Department’s Office of Protocol as a diplomatic signal that “America is open for international business, for international relations.”
The presence of American-born-and-raised global pop culture icons, as well as the country’s youthful energy and talent, were also on display at the inauguration and it did not go unnoticed by the envoys.
Haspels said he enjoyed Lady Gaga’s rendition of the national anthem, and “a moment that resonated with me was the extraordinary poem read by the youth laureate poet, Ms. Amanda Gorman.”
Weiss said he thought “the star power” helped to “bring everyone in” and that it was nice to “not have politicians among politicians speaking political language.”
“All in all, it was a beautiful event,” he said, and a “positive and uplifting moment” for those who were there.
And - what was a dignified ceremony with many striking moments and a touching speech by President Biden - has come to an end. A true honor to represent Austria on this important day.#Inauguration2021 pic.twitter.com/u7xQNC7uVm— Martin Weiss (@martinoweiss) January 20, 2021