Biden’s Inauguration Should Make a Statement
Inauguration Day 2021 will mark the start of a new era, one with Joe Biden leading us through the pandemic and economic recovery. The road ahead will be difficult, so what better way to start the journey than by making a statement through how the inauguration is celebrated. The two most important parts of the statement are unambiguously recognizing the seriousness of the pandemic and signaling that the response to it, and to the economic havoc it has caused, will be massive, compassionate, and science-based.
Unless you are Donald Trump, the pandemic has changed your life. You are socially-distancing and fully aware that reckless conduct on your part may infect and kill others. Thus, you live mainly as Joe Biden did during a presidential campaign, avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, and encouraging others to do the same.
The inauguration should follow this pattern by being more of a virtual event than a live one. The massive crowds of people, anxious to celebrate the end of Trump, must be discouraged from coming to Washington and risking a Trump-like super-spreader event. That can be done, but only if Joe Biden and his team craft an inaugural that respects tradition but offers attendees something extraordinary: The message that the new president will lead us through the current crisis.
The Inauguration Day Religious Service
Traditionally, Inauguration Day starts with the President-elect attending a religious service. Usually, these are held at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the church that served as a prop for Trump last summer when federal troops cleared away protesters so he could hold an up-side-down bible in front of it. That sad incident makes St. John’s an attractive choice for the service, but Biden is a Roman Catholic. If the new president wants to send a message that he is honest, he will attend a mass at St. Mathew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington.
The mass should be sparsely attended, with only the Bidens and Harris’ attending with their immediate family and select other invitees. Social distancing will be practiced. The mass should be broadcast so others can participate as virtual attendees.
Coffee at the White House
Traditionally, the outgoing and incoming Presidents meet at the White House after the religious ceremony before they ride together to the Capitol for the swearing-in. This might not happen this year. What if Trump has not yet conceded the election? What if he is continuing to mock Biden? And what if, as some predict, he has already left town for good and is watching the ceremonies on several TVs at Mar-a-Lago?
The traditional White House coffee is a private event. Given that it has no real role in a virtual inauguration and the relationship between Trump and Biden, this tradition should be shelved for this inauguration. If Trump invites Biden to coffee, this decision should be reconsidered. Don’t hold your breath.
Trip to the Capitol
Traditionally the president and presidente-elect ride together to the Capitol for the swearing-in. Given Trump’s reckless behavior and refusal to wear a mask, the new president should not share a ride with Trump. I’d rather see Biden in an Uber than riding with Trump in the armored limousine informally known as “the beast.”
Although it would be uplifting to see Joe Biden sworn in at the Capitol in a socially distanced ceremony, this will be impossible. Even if the event is officially closed to the public, thousands of people will want to get a glimpse of the new president.
To minimize the risk of new infections, the swearing-in should be held indoors at the Capitol with only a small group of people involved. Television will allow us to witness the swearing-in and hear President Biden’s inauguration speech.
Traditionally, the outgoing president attends the swearing-in. It’s anyone’s guess whether Trump will want to suffer the utter humiliation of watching “Sleepy Joe” take the oath of office.
Farewell Ceremony for the Outgoing President
Should now-former President Trump be at the Capitol, tradition would have the new President join the Trumps for a farewell ceremony that includes the Trump’s leaving Washington in a helicopter. Because Trump’s departure will be such a happy event, this part of the inauguration ceremonies should occur. All our spirits will rise as we watch Trump fly away.
Luncheon with the Leadership
If the new administration is to be successful, it must work with Republicans. Thus, the traditional post-swearing-in luncheon with congressional leadership would seem to be necessary. What better way to get things off to a good start? But the lunch would mean breaking bread with legislators who have doubted Biden’s election and who otherwise remained loyal to Trump long after it was clear that he had lost.
Add to this the risks inherent in such a gathering. Is giving the appearance of bipartisanship worth the infection risk involved? And does Biden want to eat with Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and McConnell?
Maybe this lunch could be pared down to a socially distanced lunch with the top two Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.
Better yet, why not postpone the lunch for a few weeks and then restructure it as a working lunch, appropriately socially distanced, during which President Biden could discuss the major pandemic legislation he is sending to Congress?
A National Town Hall Meeting with the Biden-Harris Team
If the luncheon is postponed, perhaps Joe and Jill Biden could catch a quick bite to eat and then move on to a new event that could prove to be the highlight of the day — a national town hall meeting on the four top priorities of the new administration: the pandemic, the economic crisis, climate change, and racial justice.
Ideally, the event would be no longer than 90 minutes. The president would make brief opening comments followed by a presentation on the state of the pandemic by several scientists currently serving on the Biden Coronavirus Transition Team.
Members of Biden’s economic team when then give a similar overview of the economic crisis and the administration’s plans to “build back better.” This part of the program would be followed by a discussion of climate change and the steps necessary to address it. President Biden could sign an executive order rejoining the Paris Climate Accord at the end of this part of the program.
The final part of the meeting would be on racial justice with a discussion led by Vice President Harris. The president would acknowledge the seriousness of the issue and outline his action plan to address it.
The public would be invited to send questions to the new administration or recommendations for policies to be considered. A replay of the session would be posted on social media.
An Evening of Virtual Celebration
Traditional events such as a review of military troops and the inauguration day parade would be postponed to a later, post-pandemic, date. Ideally, Biden would hold a short private meeting with military leaders and then rest up for the night’s celebrations.
The evening could consist of an all-star concert staged at the Kennedy Center. Major musical celebrities could appear, each performing a song or two. A prominent film star could serve as master of ceremonies. The audience would be kept safely small and socially distanced. The concert would be broadcast to whatever networks wanted to carry it.
A Presidential Thank You and Good Night
At around 9 p.m., the evening would close with the president giving a short address, thanking fellow Americans for their support, and reiterating his message of hope.
With luck, by the end of the day, nobody would have contracted the coronavirus as a result of the inauguration, and all of us would have a better understanding of the administration’s priorities for its first 100 days in office.