The inauguration today — our nation’s 59th — is about more than the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. While it certainly achieves that, the ceremony at noon, which will be held on the west side of the Capitol, has also come to symbolize the significance of the office and signal the kind of administration the incoming president intends to establish.
But this one will be markedly different from those of more recent decades. Absent will be the celebratory crowds and glittering social events, owing to COVID-19 concerns. And thousands of additional members of law enforcement and the National Guard will be present to provide security after last week’s smashing of decorum and symbols by a rioting mob of Trump supporters inside the Capitol.
The central goal, however, remains unchanged: the reaffirmation of a cornerstone of democracy. Many of the rituals have accrued over time. Very little of the pomp and circumstance we have come to expect is actually necessitated by the Constitution. “The Constitution is quite spare in its vision of what should take place,” explains David Gergen, LL.B. ’67, professor of public service at Harvard Kennedy School and a onetime top adviser to four different presidents, Republican and Democrat. “It simply says there should be a taking of the oath.”
“There weren’t always public outdoor ceremonies,” said Jon C. Rogowski, associate professor of government and the author, with Andrew Reeves, of the upcoming, “No Blank Check: Public Opinion and Presidential Power.” Although George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 reportedly drew approximately 10,000 people, the public ceremony at the Capitol didn’t start until 1817, while other practices have evolved since.