Friday, January 20, 2017 is Inauguration Day (“ID”). At noon, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and officially become the 45th President of the United States. ID embodies one of the unique principles upon which the US was founded and still operates, the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Throughout history, most other countries have marked transfers of power by revolutions, assassinations, or power struggles consummated behind the scenes. One day, Mr. X is in power; the next day, suddenly, Mr. Y has taken over. Not so in the US. Historically, regardless of how contentious and bitter the presidential campaign, Americans have accepted the results and moved forward. Despite the words and actions of a small minority to date, I hope and expect the same this time.
It might surprise most of you that the Constitution is mostly silent as to the particulars of the inauguration process. It specifies the date and language of the oath. Other than that, everything else that occurs on that date is based on tradition and custom. Many of these date to George Washington’s initial inauguration in 1789.
According to the Constitution the oath is “I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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.” Some historical accounts report that Washington added the words “so help me God” at the end of the oath. Most presidents have sworn or affirmed on a Bible, but this not required and some have used other books. For example, John Quincy Adams used a book of laws; Franklyn Pierce used a law book; and Lyndon Johnson used a Catholic missal.
Below please find some inaugural facts and traditions:
- George Washington took the oath of office for his first term on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in NYC. The building still stands today at the same site. At the time, NYC was the nation’s capital. There was not a lot of pomp and circumstance, just some rounds of ceremonial cannon fire and the ringing of church bells. The oath of office was administered by the Chancellor of NY, Robert Livingston. Afterwards, Washington remarked ” I walk on untrodden ground.”
- Since then, with few exceptions, such as that for Lyndon Johnson after JFK’s assassination, the oaths of office have been administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. You may recall that Federal Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath to Johnson on board Air Force One. (Time was of the essence, and Hughes happened to be available. The situation was dire. The nation needed a president to provide continuity of leadership to the country and the rest of the world.)
- From 1793 through 1933 inaugurations were held on March 4 (or, March 5 if the 4th fell on a Sunday). From 1937 to the present, it has been held on January 20 (or 21).
- The 1793 and 1797 inaugurations were held at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, which was then the nation’s capital.
- Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn in in Washington, D.C. in 1801 at the Capitol Building. In 1805 he rode on horseback from the Capitol to the White House. Along the way, some cheering people joined him spontaneously. That was the beginning of what became the inaugural parade. Over the years, Washington’s simple ceremony has expanded to a multi-day event including balls, luncheons, speeches, parties, a national prayer service, entertainment, and national tv coverage.
- Since 1937, the procedure has been for the incoming vp to take his oath of office at the same ceremony immediately before the president takes his. Prior to 1937 the vp took his oath in the Senate chamber. The vp oath is identical to the one taken by Congressmen and other government officers.
- Attendance is open to the public. In addition, it is customary for former presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, high-ranking military personnel, Medal of Honor recipients, and other dignitaries to attend. For various reasons former presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon did not attend their successors’ inaugurations. This year some government officials have indicated they will not attend as a protest.
- Some presidents have used the selection of parade participants as a way to make political statements. For, example, in 1865 Abraham Lincoln invited AA’s to participate for the first time. The 1917 parade included women for the first time, and in 2009 Barack Obama included openly lesbians and gays.
- Since 1824, with few exceptions, the inauguration ceremonies have been held outside the Capitol Building in one of the porticos. For example, in 1945 FDR’s was moved because of WWII. Taft’s (1909) and Reagan’s (1985) were moved inside because of inclement weather. DC can be cold and/or snowy in January. Historically, the average temperature on January 20 has been 37 degrees. In 1985 the temperature was -2 degrees. Factor in blustery winds, and you can see the hazard. Tragically, in 1841, for instance, William Henry Harrison developed pneumonia following his inaugural. In those pre-antibiotics days, pneumonia was often fatal. Harrison died after just one month in office, giving him the dubious record of being the shortest tenured president.
- As one might expect, security is a critical issue. All the alphabet agencies – DHS, FBI, Secret Service, Capitol Police, Metro Police and the various Armed Forces – are involved. Obviously, the inauguration makes a very tempting target for terrorists.
- Presidential medals are produced and distributed as souvenirs. Typically, gold and silver medals are given to government officials, and bronze medals are for public consumption.
- Normally, there is a plethora of quality entertainment, but this year many “A-listers” have declined to participate. Rumor has it that some are protesting Mr. Trump’s victory, while others have been intimidated by real or perceived threats of retaliation by the Hollywood powers-that-be or their fan base. For example, just today, it was announced that Broadway star Jennifer Holiday was backing out citing disapproval of her fan base.
Traditionally, the quadrennial Presidential Inauguration has been a celebration of democracy in action. Regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation most everyone unites behind the new president. The new president enjoys a “honeymoon period” until reality inevitably sets in for some people.
This year, however, there has been more animosity than usual. Many hardcore liberals refuse to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. They have been criticizing him for things he might do or not do even before he takes the oath of office. Some government officials have indicated they will not attend the inaugural, in protest.
These people have just been unable to accept the results of the election. First, there were accusations of “voting irregularities,” whatever that means. Then, there were claims that the Russians “hacked” some voting machines. Then, people blamed FBI Director, Jim Comey for the way he handled the FBI’s report on Clinton’s emails. The media and even some Republicans have perpetuated these claims. Some people continue to refuse to believe that Trump won fair and square. Through it all, not one shred of evidence of voting irregularities or undue influence has come to the fore. These “election deniers” are simply diminishing both themselves and the country.