Trump’s Parting Shot? Skipping Biden’s Inauguration.
The photo above is a model of presidential courtesy, professionalism, and succession protocol. Outgoing President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden congratulating incoming President Donald Trump at his inauguration in 2017.
We know what those men thought of Trump and his ability to assume the presidency. We know how hard they had fought to put Hillary Clinton in the office instead. We know how fearful they were that the democracy was now in dangerous hands.
And yet, there they were, congratulating a man they distrusted.
They were there because it’s an American tradition. The peaceful, respectful, even hopeful transition of presidential power is a hallmark of the American experience. It’s not mandated. It’s not in the Constitution. But it is customary. It’s a symbol of democracy’s flexibility and acknowledgement that we have to work together for progress.
The fact that the outgoing president attends the inaugural of the incoming president, especially if he is from an opposing party, signals to his base that they can work with the new president.
So far, Trump has not said whether he will attend Biden’s inaugural on January 20, 2021.
If he doesn’t show, that is a signal to rabid Trumpers that Trump himself still has not accepted the honest, legal succession of Biden to the presidency, and they don’t have to either.
That’s another way of Trump saying, “stand back, and stand by.”
By showing up, Trump would be admitting, finally, that Biden won, fairly and unequivocally. That, of course, would take the steam out of any future presidential run Trump plans because he wants to predicate such a campaign on the idea he was unfairly tossed from office.
Insane, yes, but a campaign strategy nonetheless. Sort of a “Trump Lost Cause.” (Hmm. Rather appropriate since he identifies so much with the Confederate Lost Cause.)
In an interview with President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris on December 3, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Biden if he thought it was important that Trump attend the inauguration.
BIDEN: I think it would — important only in one sense, not in a personal sense, important in the sense that we are able to demonstrate, at the end of this chaos that he’s created, that there is peaceful transfer of power, with the competing parties standing there, shaking hands, and moving on.
I think that’s an important — what I worry about, Jake, more than the impact on the domestic politics, I really worry about the image we’re presenting to the rest of the world.
The rest of the world has looked at us — and you’ve heard me say this a number of times, and I apologize for repeating it — they followed us not just because the power — the example of our power, the power of our example.
And look where we are now in the world. Look how we’re viewed. They’re wondering, my lord, these things happen in tinhorn dictatorships.
This is not — it’s not the United States. So, in that sense, the protocol of the transfer of power, I think, is important.
But it is totally his decision, and it’s — it’s of no personal consequence to me. But I do think it is for the country.
Obviously, with COVID-19, we don’t even know what Biden’s inauguration will look like. Probably a sparse event, few people, all socially distanced and wearing masks. (Having to wear a mask would probably be enough of a deterrent for Trump.)
But right now it sounds like Trump may have somewhere else to be. Like at a rally to kick off a 2024 presidential bid. If Trump can’t be in the spotlight, he will just set up another one on a stage somewhere else.
If, as most suspect, Trump does not attend Biden’s inauguration, he won’t be the first outgoing president to do so.
That was John Adams, who was also the first one-term president. Adams, a Federalist, lost the 1800 general election to Democrat-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in electoral votes, forcing the decision into the House of Representatives. That’s another story, but of course Jefferson won and was inaugurated on March 4,1801.
At 4:30 that morning, Adams caught a coach out of Washington, D.C., and started home to Massachusetts. He was certainly angry and hurt over his loss, but he was also grieving over the death of one of his sons. He was in a hurry to get home.
Jefferson got over Adams’ snub, and Biden will be just fine without Trump in attendance. He’s got plenty of other things to worry about — like tackle COVID-19, the faltering economy, systemic racism, and climate change to name a few.
Trump will just be leaving in one last petulant jab at American civility.