Analysis | An inauguration modified by security and public health threats

The pandemic and security threats from Trump supporters in the aftermath of his U.S. President Donald Trump’s challenges to the results have compelled the Biden-Harris team to have an Inauguration that will not be accessible to the masses as is usually the case.

The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President of the U.S. will be a highly unusual affair this year — curtailed and modified by various forces gone out of control. The COVID-19 pandemic and security threats from Trump supporters in the aftermath of U.S. President Donald Trump’s challenges to the results have compelled the Biden-Harris team to have an inauguration that will not be accessible to the masses, as is usually the case.

The setting — Washington D.C. — will be transformed with some 25,000 National Guardsmen to secure the proceedings . Additionally, the Trumps will be conspicuous by their absence, and the ceremony will consequently need further modification.

 

Mr. and Ms. Trump are expected to fly out to their Mar-a-Lago residence and resort in Florida from Joint Base Andrews (JBA) in Maryland early on Wednesday. Mr. Trump — recently impeached by the House of Representatives and awaiting trial by the Senate, primarily for his alleged role in an attack on the U.S. Capitol earlier this month — will be the first President to boycott his successor’s inauguration since Andrew Johnson boycotted Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1869 at the last minute (the two did not get along and Grant did not like Johnson’s racist ways).

While details of the Trumps’ departure are still emerging, the White House has issued invitations for an 8 a.m. event at JBA. Mr. Trump has, as per reports, asked for an honour guard and is considering a 21-gun salute for the ceremony. Consequently, the Trumps will not be on hand to receive the Bidens at the White House for tea — the outgoing and incoming President travel together to the swearing in ceremony, as per tradition. Instead, the Bidens will be received at the White House by Chief Usher of the White House.

Vice-President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence are expected to attend the inauguration, as are former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. So contentious and unprecedented are the times, that Mr. Pence achieved praise for simply discharging his ceremonial duties on January 6 when the Congress ratified the state Electoral College votes. With Mr. Trump’s absence on Wednesday, he is likely to once again receive more attention than the Vice-President normally does on departure day.

Ms. Harris will be sworn in shortly before noon by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor and Mr. Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts at noon on Wednesday on the Capitol’s West Front in front of a small (relative to past inaugurations), masked and socially-distanced crowd of about 1,000.

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Inaugural address

Mr. Biden will then deliver his inaugural address and as Commander in Chief review military troops on the East Front of the Capitol . The President inspecting his troops, like the presence of the previous President, is an important ritual signifying the peaceful transfer of power, a concept that is normally taken for granted in the U.S., but has been at risk this year owing to Mr. Trump and some Republican lawmakers urging their voters to question the legitimacy and overturn the results of the election.

Following the swearing in, the Bidens, Obamas and Bushes will pay their respects at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Mr. Biden will have a short trip back to the White House (there will be no in-person parade as per usual); he is expected to get an escort for one block by each branch of the military.

Also Read | It’s not going to be easy, says Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on challenges facing America

Diversity has been another theme of the Biden campaign. Mr. Biden had said that he wanted a Cabinet which “looks like America”— that theme of diversity has been emphasised throughout the election cycle from the Convention to the Inauguration.

Consequently, There will be a virtual “Parade Across America” in the afternoon featuring performances to showcase America’s diversity — not unlike what the Democrats did at their Convention last summer. In lieu of inaugural balls and galas (the Obamas attended 10 in 2009), traditionally held on the evening of January 20th, the inaugural committee is holding virtual balls for the Asian-American, Black and Latino communities. Several prominent Indian Americans including actor Kal Penn, lawmakers Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi will participate in the Asian American event (8 PM Eastern Time; 6.30 AM IST January 21).

The evening’s festivities close off with a virtual musical event with celebrates, titled, “Celebrating America” hosted by Tom Hanks and featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake among others. With a raging virus, a bitterly fought election, an absentee outgoing president, messages of unity and healing, song and dance, Wednesday is likely to stand out, as far as inaugurations go.

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