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Newmann: The inaugural inaugural

So here we go, Inauguration Day … the day we show the rest of the world how we, the United States, proceed with a peaceful transition of leadership (or, as it’s more generally described, power).

The event, constitutionally, only requires that the president-elect take the oath of office before the new presidential term actually begins. That oath can be taken anywhere, as long as it is witnessed by someone who is empowered legally to witness it. And then, bingo, the new president is in office.

But that bare-bones version of the inauguration has never had much play. And, historically, it’s been supplanted by a much grander tradition — tradition being the byword.



In recent times tradition dictates that the president-elect arrives at the White House prior to the event and then rides to the Capitol with the outgoing president. Around noon, the chief justice presides over the oath of office (administered first to the vice president, then to the president). And at precisely noon, the new administration is in office.

Then comes the Inaugural Address, the walk to the White House, the parades, the balls … the traditional stuff.



Meanwhile, thousands of folks view the inauguration, line the parade route and share in the festivities.

What could be more seamless? Or more reassuring?

What a grand tradition!

Well, tradition seems to have taken a vacation … or maybe just some sick days. The virus has certainly interfered with most folks’ ability to actually witness, in person, the events of the day. But that was always going to be a rather sad given. No point in participation in an event that, however worthy, could become a mass super spreader. This year, the normal Inauguration crowds will be replaced by almost 200,000 flags (or maybe many, many more, depending on which counting source you’re using).

The former occupant of the White House will not be in attendance. So the handover will not have the rather personal touch that has been the hallmark of transitional inaugurations. But, then again, that touch was probably never destined to happen.

The military, which also has a history of being a part of the ceremonies of the day, will definitely be in attendance. But the role will be a bit different this year. And it will not be celebratory.

The prospect of over 20,000 armed National Guard troops, plus law enforcement agencies, patrolling the nation’s Capitol on Inauguration Day is rather daunting, especially for a nation that, for the bulk of its history, has taken pride in being the model for the rest of the world in terms of peaceful transitions. And it’s even more daunting, given that the rest of the world has historically seen us as being that model.

This is not to say that we will not see a smooth transition. But it’s hardly an ideal — or even decent — situation that we’re currently in.

We can certainly do better.

It’s one thing to lose some traditions; it’s yet another to lose a legacy.

Tom Newmann splits his time between Edwards and Queenstown, New Zealand. He has been going winter-to-winter since 1986. He was also a journalist in Missoula, Montana, at the Missoulian for quite a few years. Email him at tsnmmf@xtra.co.nz.


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