Presidential inaugurations are a U.S. tradition. Much of the day follows a very specific set of activities and events that showcase the peaceful transition of power from one president to another and celebrate the newly elected president and vice president. The Constitution lays out exactly how a president’s term will begin, starting at noon on Jan. 20.
This year’s inauguration was a bit different as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the increased security concerns due to the assault on the U.S. Capitol that took place on Jan. 6. Traditions needed to change to make it a safe environment for everyone involved.
Differences were apparent from the start, as the traditionally crowded stage at the Capitol was much smaller. Normally filled to the brim with men and women from Congress, the judiciary, past presidents and vice presidents and family of the president and vice president elect, the stage was socially-distanced with every person wearing a mask.
According to NPR, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies would normally release 200,000 tickets for Americans to enjoy the event near the Capitol. This year, no tickets were offered to the general public, and members of Congress were only allowed to bring one guest. The Presidential Inaugural Committee urged Americans to stay home and celebrate virtually rather than travel to Washington, D.C.
The inaugural parade, usually held after the president is sworn in, was changed to a virtual format this year to further encourage Americans to enjoy the celebrations from home. Instead of walking down the parade route — down Pennsylvania Ave from the U.S. Capitol to the White House — with crowds of people lining the streets, the Biden’s had a presidential escort that consisted of representatives from every military branch. The parade itself was then broadcast virtually to the American public, featuring drum lines, dancers, singers and athletes.
Another difference present during this year’s inauguration was the absence of any official inaugural balls. These black-tie affairs are held around Washington D.C., and usually, the newly sworn-in president, vice president and their families will attend several throughout the night. This year, there were no inaugural balls to attend; instead, there was ‘Celebrating America’— a TV special hosted by Tom Hanks that featured musical guests such as Jon Bon Jovi and Demi Lovato. President Biden and Vice President Harris also gave remarks during the special.
The deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 resulted in a variety of security measures implemented across Washington, D.C. The extremely high-security event was kicked into high gear and included thousands more law enforcement and military officials as well as National Guard members from at least forty states.
The National Mall, usually filled to the brim with excited Americans anxious to get a look at the new president, was closed to the public, and vast stretches of the district were barricaded and off-limits. Barricades blocked off the area around the Capitol, far more than any previous inauguration. These areas, ordinarily featuring large crowds of people who flock to the city to witness history being made, consisted of flags, representing the Americans who were unable to travel to Washington.
Another big change this inauguration was the absence of the previous president, Donald Trump. Traditionally, the outgoing president, along with the other former presidents would sit behind a new president during the swearing-in ceremony. Trump refused to attend the inauguration and instead left the White House on Wednesday morning, holding a departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews.
As Tom Hanks said at the end of the virtual celebration, “It has been a uniquely historic inauguration.” It is certainly one we will remember forever.