By Anna Di Iorio-Reyes
On a day of such importance, tradition is expected. Every rule, however, has an exception, and this year was one of them. January 20th, 2021, Inauguration Day, was a day like no other of its kind. Some differences were the result of the pandemic, obvious things like masks and social distancing. Others were the result of a weakened state of Democracy through the insurrection, also culminating in the 45th president not attending. Despite all the factors that could have easily canceled the ceremony, Inauguration Day was followed through and consequently showed Democracy will prevail.
A direct result of the weakened state of our Democracy was the 25,000 or so national guard members issued by the Pentagon to be at the Inauguration. They surrounded the Capitol building to indicate that this time, they were ready for any attack. It saddens me, as I’m sure it does many others, to see that this is the necessary protocol for the Inauguration. That there needs to be 25,000 guards on the premises because our nation is so divided that we have to defend ourselves from us, and that much force is needed to do so. The Mayor of Washington D.C., Muriel Bowser, advised people to “participate virtually and to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection” which the guards’ presence insured. Trump attempted to make up for his hazy response to the Insurrection by saying “I urge that there must be NO violence.” he announced, regarding the Inauguration. “That is not what I stand for, and is not what America stands for.”
The Inauguration was not only determined by who was there, but by who was not. The first, and more expected, was the lack of a crowd: yet another effect of the pandemic and perhaps solidified by the insurrection. Taking their place on the field in front of the Capitol building were American flags. Usually held up by the crowd of people on past inauguration days, the flags this year were instead staked into the ground. They solemnly represented the 400,000 plus people this country has lost due to the pandemic, and the whole scene was dubbed as the “Field of Flags.” The second glaring absence was former President Donald Trump, who apparently wanted nothing to do with tradition. Trump announced his decision to not attend on January 8th, tweeting, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” President Biden, the then president-elect, addressed the situation naming Trump’s choice “One of the few things he and I have ever agreed on”. About 3½ hours before the Inauguration ceremony Trump and his wife, Melania, exited the White House for the last time, mounted Marine One and flew to Florida.
On past Inauguration Days, the president and the president-elect have had pleasant interactions to show the peaceful transfer of power that keeps our democracy stable. Usually, the incoming family, or just the incoming president and their spouse, are welcomed into the White House by the outgoing family, and they all sit and have tea. After, the outgoing family normally accompanies the incoming family to the Capitol building, where the swearing-in ceremony commences. Trump did not participate in any inaugural events, but did partake in the tradition of leaving a letter for the president-elect. Although Trump’s letter has not been released to the public, Biden did comment on it, saying “The President wrote a very generous letter. Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.” Filling in Trump’s place in the events was former Vice President Mike Pence, who even greeted the incoming family into the White House as well as left a letter for the then vice-president elect Kamala Harris. This was appreciated by many, that in the absence of Trump the Vice President remained professional and a part of basic protocols. Even though the unavailability of Trump put a rocky-edge to the Inauguration, Pence’s presence assured a peaceful transfer of power, and maybe a sense of relief to those involved.
The 2020 election and the 2021 inauguration are events to be remembered. Former President Trump is the first president to miss his successor’s inauguration in 150 years, and joins history’s 9 other US presidents who have failed to be re-elected for a second term. Our democracy, shaken as it is, has overcome the attempts to destroy it. As President Joe Biden stated in his Inauguration speech, “at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t still work to be done, and we need to come together now more than ever. Our country is divided, something Trump insured before he left. As long as his followers believe in his word, it will be a while before peace is on anyone’s mind.