In the midst of a pandemic and in the wake of an unprecedented attack on the U.S. Capitol, the 2021 presidential inauguration ceremony will differ sharply from those of years past.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden is set to take office on Jan. 20 amid a scaled-down event for which plans remain fluid, said inauguration expert Elizabeth Goldsmith, professor emerita at Florida State University.
Goldsmith said while the particulars are still being set, she expects pomp and pageantry to give way to tighter planning and precaution.
“The most important thing to remember right now is that no matter what we say today about the inauguration, it could change,” Goldsmith said. “It’s been steadily getting more and more toned down for more than a month.”
She added: “I think it’s going to be more utilitarian. They’ll do the formality of the swearing in and hopefully the speech, which should be short, but beyond that it’s hard to know.”
Goldsmith said that the traditional inauguration day luncheon, which is held in Statuary Hall in the Capitol, has already been canceled. The 1.2-mile parade from the Capitol to the White House, one of the most iconic inaugural traditions, could also be cut.
Inauguration festivities could mirror those of the major party conventions last summer in which formerly in-person events were pivoted to the virtual realm.
Goldsmith said the inauguration has a history of incremental evolution.
“It’s always changed a little each time,” she said. “In 1929 they made a movie of it. It was first televised in 1949. As technology changes, it changes; but this time it’s not technology forcing the changes.”
She added: “They are trying to bring people together but not in person.”
Regardless of the forms the inauguration and ancillary events take, Goldsmith said it’s a hugely symbolic part of American political life.
“It is a very important tradition to the American public,” she said. “It’s a very important part of our feeling of moving forward.”
Elizabeth Goldsmith is an expert on the day-to-day living of first families and inaugural celebrations including the inaugural luncheon and related activities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.