Patriotic Pageantry in America
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp." So begins the final verse of Emma Lazarus's "The New Colussus." Though less often recited than her paean to the golden door, these words sound a powerful theme of national identity. Americans reject the pomp and pageantry of the tired, monarchical, militaristic, oppressive Old World. They do not "stand on ceremony." During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson defined the enemy as "Governments clothed with the strange trappings and primitive authority of an age that is altogether alien and hostile to our own"1 Negative political repercussions befall those who forget the egalitarian folklore, from John Adams to Richard M. Nixon, who garbed White House police in uniforms befitting an operetta set in Mitteleuropa.
Yet despite the democratic ethos, Americans do cherish ceremony. Absent ancient knightly orders, we join civic and fraternal organizations with comparable titles and regalia. 2 Lacking royal family or palaces, we make do with presidents, their families and the White House. Much of John F. Kennedy's appeal was the storybook glamor with which he and Jackie enlivened the White House. Aiming to demystify the imperial presidency, Jimmy Carter carried his own garment bag and heard fewer renditions of "Hail to the Chief," gestures that did little for his political standing. We denigrate pomp but have never been without it, and as patriotic activists became a growing presence in American life, they insisted that patriotism was best instilled through pomp and ceremony. 3
As a young nation lacking ruined abbeys or royal houses, we have strained to create history out of whatever comes to hand. We are a people