HerStory: The Enumerating Inauguration of Madam Vice President Kamala Devi Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris. Source: WhiteHouse.gov

For the first time in presidential history, it’s all about the women.  In particular, one woman whose legacy can most handily be defined by the numbers: the forty-ninth Vice President of the United States, the ninety-fifth person to take the oath of office; her lone right hand tilted towards the heavens, her remaining five fingers set atop a carefully selected Bible.

In the case of Kamala, there were two Bibles.  One, a family heirloom hand-carried by the beloved matriarch’s granddaughter from the former Senator’s stomping grounds of Berkley California through the hallowed steps of the Capitol, respectfully clad in a sachet of aubergine velvet finished with gold tassels and filigreed lettering (I shit you not!) – the other, belonging to Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, and distinguished Howard alum however vague the trails of his biblical legacy remain.

What’s most striking lies in the fact that Harris’ hand will be the first female one sworn on such a tome in over 200 years.

THE MAGIC IS IN THE MAKING

As thick flakes of snow descend on the city skyline, I sat safely and socially-distanced from C-Span, pardons and anti-patriotism, to watch a crowd growing weary of the blue carpeted step-and-repeat amidst the January chill, and ready to commence with the ceremonies.  Off stage, a bemused Barack roamed about – a sure signal your VIP’s are becoming pleasantly, and increasingly, antsy.  Then again, the restlessness is real.  As Representative Blount rightly remarked, “We are more than we have been, and less than we hope to be.”

Blount’s words were a stinging read.  Inauguration Day is our day, the people’s day, a day in which I planned to formally and respectfully celebrate the magnitude of history taking place.  I needed this day to catch and add my breath to a collective exhale.

In the smaller snowflakes that fluttered beyond the Mason-Dixon line, I saw a balm, and with it, the promise, if only for one night, that I might be able to decompress from the long months of divisive storytelling, disorienting isolation and contemptible outrage.

Part of me needed today to be the day we could begin healing the punctures that threaten to burst the seams of our nation’s democratic fiber.  Partly because I wondered if we would ever experience an Inauguration Day like this.

I sat thunderstruck at the barrage of brown-skinned firsts flooding the screen: two female guards standing statuesquely as Sergeant-At-Arms, a stately Eugene Goodman, the lone Capitol guardsman left to defend the Senate chambers from a growing group of domestic terrorists, and now serving as Mrs. Harris’ personal inauguration escort.  The warmth emanating from the hands of South Fulton County’s first female Captain, the eloquence of her spoken and signed delivery of the Pledge of Allegiance.

As a writer, I beamed with personal pride after every shining verse uttered by Amanda Gorman.  Bespoke in a glorious ruby-red pillbox headband, her elegance underscored her designation as the nation’s youngest Poet Laureate.  (I would later learn Ms. Gorman reportedly put the finishing touches on her poem the same day the Capitol attacks took place.)

As she swore in her successor, Mr. Alex Padilla, California’s first Latino Senator, I could almost hear Kamala’s pearls clutching themselves; the gems a personal gift from the goddaughter of the late, great Shirley Chisholm.

Indeed, it’s history on steroids; political factoids to be picked apart as one would a pithy meme or viral video.  Understandably, people are excited; I, remain cautiously objective.

#REALITY CHECK

As with many things pandemic-adjacent, I am alone.  My peers seem more focused on the Coachella–meets–Minority–Report–style theatrics of the inauguration and its attendees, than the peaceful transfer of power the event was meant to symbolize.

By now, the world knows this administration will inherit a nation torn apart like no other.  I can’t help but wonder what this vice presidency will look like when the glam squad is gone, the majorettes have marched homeward, the faulty stilettos replaced with sensible flats (or socks).

While I look forward to healing, like most of my peers, I am also looking to ‘Auntie Momala’ for that spark of melanin magic.  Again, I wonder: how will our newest VP assist in making America at least make sense again?

History has always had a righteously revisionist propensity, the numbers, however, do not lie.  What many millennials identify today as “diversity” comes from a much more nuanced quandary.  How can fields like construction, food service and healthcare – some of our titans of commerce, truly diversify when they remain contemporarily analogous to their occupational roots.  Take for instance, the worn trope that women are more empathic and therefore more likely to enter careers in education and caregiving; or that men are inherently better suited for more labor-intensive roles.

The job description for many political positions can get murky.  Electeds are continually inundated with résumés from a global base of candidates with a vast array of experience, who then must compete with loyalist party members, campaign staffers, seasoned politicos, and occasionally, the anomalous throw-in.

Chiefly, the role of VP is notable for being the first in line to presidential succession.  In a far less glitzy capacity, the VP also serves as president of the Senate, with the authority to tie break Senate deliberations.  The job comes with an annual salary of $235,000, a pittance for someone from Kamala’s circles, but money that could perhaps be better spent on innovative social justice initiatives that engage non-traditional workers, college-seeking returning citizens, transient youth, street vendors, et cetera.

“AS USEFUL AS A COW’S FIFTH TEAT.”

So wrote Harry Truman to his wife, detailing his duties as Vice President of the FDR administration.

Veep OG Adams once described the job as the most “insignificant office that ever was the invention of man.”  Limousine lawyer and politico Daniel Webster twice declined direct offers.  Some historians cited a wanderlust for the No. 1 slot, the irony being that, via succession rights, Webster could have been a POTUS.  Contrastingly, as the first Vice President to assume the powers of the Oval Office pro tempore, Nixon was a disastrous replacement for a recovering Ike, so there’s that part.

In its most recent iteration, Presidential running mates are largely pre-selected, so it might be troubling for our current cancel culture society to note that there have been at least seven attempts to remove No. 2’s job completely from our democracy.

Given the caliber, even the most trivial of electoral decisions can have enduring effects.  Jimmy Carter, our oldest living POTUS, provided an indirect contribution, when his Veep, Walter Mondale, (the first of his ilk to snag a wing at the White House) selected Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.

As the ranking member of the National Security Council – a Truman-born outfit that administers policies to government agencies on national security and foreign policy, the Vice President will also have the ability to exercise “kill authorizations”  which can include U.S. citizens who have been deemed terroristic threats.

Prior to the 12th amendment, the role of Vice President was a title of honor bestowed to magnify the achievements of the people’s runner-up; a well-deserved political silver medal of sorts.  

To date, only two people would qualify: future Presidents Jefferson and Adams.

Today, Mrs. Harris will be the fourth Vice President, counting Nixon, Mondale and Hubert Humphrey, with the singular distinction of losing to a nominee who would ultimately select them for the job.

CROSSING THE LINE ITEM

Working in municipal government for nearly a decade taught me the delicacies of OMB, aka the New York City Office of Management & Budget.  I started with the City in college, creating my own departmental role in the process, but it would be years before I learned I was nothing more than a line item, tax-levied or not.

When I left that job to pursue state politics, my former boss, a life-long Democrat and civil servant who often referred to me (a whole me!) as her “right-hand man”, became infuriated enough to have OMB remove my item altogether.

The icing out can be pernicious, and although Garret Hobart, aka “Assistant President” to McKinley, for example, stands out among how key advisement befits sound administration, Mr. Truman was neither informed nor invited to Cabinet meetings on such matters of import as the Manhattan Project.

As she and the First Gentleman(!), congenially escorted her predecessor down the East steps to a late-model Chevy Suburban, the newly minted Veep looked breathtakingly, unapologetically stateswoman-like. Stopping for one last chat before parting ways with the Pence’s, the couple stood proudly, waving in unison, as the humble SUV made its slow exit off the Capitol grounds.

“SOMEHOW WE WEATHERED AND WITNESSED A NATION THAT ISN’T BROKEN, BUT SIMPLY UNFINISHED.” 

From the prescient wisdom of Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.

Many moments later Kamala would return to the Rotunda, but not before a quick lean-in with the only woman to ever serve as Speaker of the House.  Yet not even the glare of Pelosi’s Pantone-inspired ensemble could curb the MVP’s enthusiasm.

A few moments later, we watched a beaming Madam Vice President slip into a stately stretch Cadillac and with it, a whole new world – all eyes on her.

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