January 20, 2021
WRITTEN BY:
Melinda Head

New Day New Power Couple

Inauguration Day in the United States is typically a celebration of democracy in action with the peaceful transfer of power. Politically speaking, the last few years have been anything but ordinary! Let's take a closer look at the history and customs of this usually celebratory event.

Inauguration Day is, coincidentally, also International Day of Acceptance

Typically, there is a lovely ceremony held during which the outgoing President welcomes the incoming President. Through a friendly handshake, the two leaders tell the world that democracy is alive, well and healthy in America.

Although the only part of the inauguration that is dictated in the Constitution is the recitation of the Presidential Oath, the symbolism of the ceremony sets the tone for Americans and people across the world: the people have spoken and their voices are being respected.

Having grown up in a democratic society perhaps I may take this for granted, but I imagine that people around the globe, who don’t have a voice, look at this transition as a part of the American Dream. The people vote, the people elect, and, peacefully, the transition of power happens.

Like so many other things over the past 4 years, 2021 will be different. This year outgoing President Trump has said he won’t be in attendance at the Inauguration, and President-Elect Biden says he agrees that it’s for the best.

President Trump has yet to acknowledge that he lost the election. He has yet to concede. Assuming President Trump opts out, he won’t be the first -- just the first in over 150 years.

Three of his predecessors have previously opted out: Presidents John Adams (1801), John Quincy Adams (1829) and Andrew Johnson (1869).

Trump Decline Inauguration Day Attendance
Trump Declines Inauguration Day Attendance

Events over the last few weeks, as outlined in our Did Trump Just Trump Himself blog, indicate that this will not be as smooth or peaceful a transition as that to which we have become accustomed.

With a Country divided and a President still talking about a stolen election, although much more quietly since been banned from Social Media, the best we can hope for is a peaceful transition. Inauguration day itself will not be what we have come to expect.

Inauguration Day is a big day for the Country. It all started in 1569, the earliest known date of the use of this term. Basically, you’ve got a ceremony that starts an important undertaking. Every President of the United States has been officially inaugurated.

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country.”
(from John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration speech, 1961)

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
(from Franklin Roosevelt's Inauguration speech, 1933)

“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
(from Abraham Lincoln’s Inauguration speech, 1865)

Most inaugurations look pretty much the same, but not always. The most bizarre inauguration took place on Air Force One when Lyndon B. Johnson took over the Presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The ceremony took place at Dallas Love Field, Texas, after which the plane immediately left for Washington, D.C. This was the first time a President was administered the Oath of Office by a woman (Judge Sarah T. Hughes).

Lyndon B. Johnson takes the Oath of Office aboard Air Force One
Lyndon B. Johnson takes the Oath of Office aboard Air Force One

Here are some interesting Inauguration Day traditions, that may not occur this time ‘round:

The outgoing first family gathers the residence staff in the State Dining Room to say goodbye. Staff presents the family with a gift, including a handcrafted box that holds two American flags – the one flown over the White House on the day the President was inaugurated and the one flying on his/her last day of office. What happens if the weather is inclement on January 20th and the flag gets wet? And will this tradition continue this year? Will the Trump family gather to say their goodbyes? Will they flee the coup ahead of time? Will they wait to be evicted?

Pre-Ceremony morning tea is served to the incoming and outgoing Presidents and their spouses at the White House. Really? I thought we kicked the Brits out in 1783? Again, I’m guessing this is another tradition that won’t be happening this year.

To help ease the transition of moving into the White House, the incumbent First Lady traditionally invites the spouse of the President-Elect to tour the President’s private quarters. Again, I’m not sure how likely this is. Thankfully, having served for 8 years with President Obama will give the Biden family some insider knowledge. And let’s be honest, the Bidens and Obamas are clearly friends. If Dr. Jill Biden can’t find her way around, she probably has Michelle Obama on speed dial.

Both incoming and outgoing Presidents drive to the Inauguration site together. Before automobiles and carriages, everyone just walked. Now we need Fitbits to remind us to get in some steps. One more tradition that will just not happen in 2021.

All the while, movers are furiously removing the effects of the outgoing President and delivering those of the incoming President. Moving days are high on the stress index, can you imagine also having to become the President of the United States on the same day?

Moving Truck in Front of the White House
Moving Truck in Front of the White House

At the strike of 12:00 Noon EST, the President-Elect becomes the President. This ensures that there is no question about who is the Commander in Chief, as the briefcase which holds the nuclear activation hardware, known as “the biscuit”, will be firmly transferred to the President’s possession at that time.

I personally believe that the most important part of Inauguration Day will be the swearing-in of Kamala Harris, the first female Vice-President, whose parents hail from Jamaica and India. Can it get any better? I love that this highly accomplished black woman’s husband, Doug, will be the first Second Gentleman ever. To boot, he’s also Jewish – another first. We discussed Vice-President Kamala Harris in our 2020s: Women to Remember blog.

Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff

As Ms. Harris says:

“I’ve had a lot of titles over my career, and certainly, “Vice-President” will be great, but “Momala” (what her step-children call Kamala) will always be the one that means the most”.

In my mind, this woman has her priorities straight and America will benefit from this humble perspective.

This year, the celebration looks much different than usual. The US Capitol is boarded up and there is an extremely high military presence. In fact, there are more troops in the US Capitol today than in all of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria combined. That is a lot of men and women highly trained in combat!

National Guardsmen in Front of the Capitol
National Guardsmen in Front of the Capitol

Typically, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Washington, selling out hotels and swarming the National Mall, but, this year, the size of the celebration will be extremely limited. The Biden Team has urged Americans to avoid traveling to the Capitol due to the Covid-19 pandemic. DC authorities have repeated this advice, especially in the wake of the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill. They have even removed the viewing stands that had been set up along the historic parade route.

Military Parade
Military Parade

This is not to say that there will be no celebration. About 200 people will sit, socially distanced, wearing masks, on the stage with Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris. About 1,000 tickets are available, down from the 200,000 that had originally been planned. Instead of a parade in the streets, there will be a virtual parade down Pennsylvania Ave.

Lady Gaga will sing the National Anthem and Jennifer Lopez will sing as part of the Ceremony’s musical performance. After the swearing-in, Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute primetime television show to keep things COVID friendly. It will feature Bon Jovi, Demi Levato, and Justin Timberlake.

Bon Jovi Concert
Bon Jovi Concert

After the speeches and the celebrations, it will be time to get to work.  There is much work to do…and undo.

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