A very different US presidential inauguration happened in Washington on Wednesday January 20th 2021, as Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States. Historian Dr Sinead McEneaney, lecturer and staff tutor at the OU, talks about the day and indeed what to expect from the next 100 days from both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump:
What can we expect to happen at the inauguration?
It’s a strange day and unlike any of the US inaugurations that have happened before. Some things will be the same though. The ceremony will take place outside the Capitol building, as has been the case for most inaugurations since the 1830s. Just before noon, as Joseph R. Biden officially becomes president under the Constitution, he will swear his oath of 35 words, which all presidents customarily repeat. And he will give a speech.
What will be different?
Joe Biden’s speech will be to a small in-person crowd. The rest of the watching world will be doing that remotely. He will do an inspection of the troops but in a much smaller way. Usually the new president walks along the National Mall, which leads from the Capitol building to the White House. But this is closed off and so he is likely to only walk a little way down it, due to the lack of crowds and security measures. In addition, all the post inaugural social events, the ball etc, will not happen in person and instead be streamed remotely.
The entire city is on a lockdown, the product of dual concerns over security and the pandemic. With the exception perhaps of Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration on 4 March 1861 – when seven states had already seceded from the Union and Civil War looked inevitable – it’s difficult to think of a more fraught inaugural ceremony.
What do you think Joe Biden will say in his first speech? What will he be like as president?
Joe Biden’s speech is expected to be about American unity and to call for the deeply divided nation to come together behind his leadership.
It’s hard to know what kind of president Biden will be, but it’s likely the tone of the presidency will change in a matter of a day, and he will set about undoing as many of Trump’s actions as he can, either by executive orders or by legislation. We can see this through his early commitment to introduce sweeping legislation on immigration, for example.
Generally, he will be very different; a president who speaks in full sentences, who doesn’t rule by Twitter.
This is not the first time Joe Biden has taken a leading role in US politics is it?
No, he has spent almost his whole life in politics. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972, at the young age of 30. He entered the White House for the first time in 2009, then as Vice President in Barack Obama’s incoming administration. Coincidentally, at that time he was facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions that would require swift action and a huge stimulus from Congress to resolve. This time, the Covid pandemic replaces the financial crisis of 2008, Trumpists are the new Tea Party, and Q anon and assorted “stop the steal” conspiracists replace those that abounded the last time. So big problems again, but a very different January. And this time, Biden takes the oath as President instead of VP.
And what about the coming 100 days for Biden?
There is a delicate balance for him to strike with resolution of the past on the one hand and the imagination of the future on the other. He will have to deal with the alleged criminality of the outgoing president as well as ploughing forward with quite an extensive legislative programme to tackle both the economic crisis and the pandemic. There’s a danger that the impeachment process will become a kind of sideshow and the Democrats will be eager for that not to happen, and to keep the emphasis on the positive.
And finally what about the outgoing president, will we see him?
No, Trump will be the fourth president to shun the inauguration of his successor. Following his own send-off he will fly off to Florida well before the ceremony. Mike Pence, the Vice-President will attend in his stead. The relationship between outgoing and incoming President has been non-existent. Trump’s part in the dangerous attack on the Capitol earlier this month meant Democrats in the House had little choice but to call for his impeachment. Those impeachment proceedings might distract from Biden’s agenda in his first weeks in office. Whilst Trump will not be physically present today, Joe Biden is certainly not yet rid of his predecessor.
Read more from Dr McEneaney in her blog here.