It’s Inauguration Day, in which Joe Biden is set to become the 46th president of the United States. I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone.
Inauguration Day is the occasion on which one president transfers power to the next elected president. In a handful of obvious cases, the former president did not attend the inauguration of the next president.
In some obvious cases I don’t count, the former president died before the next president could be sworn in. The most recent example, of course, was when Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One the same afternoon an assassin’s bullet killed John F. Kennedy. Before that, Harry Truman took the oath at the White House in 1945 after learning Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia.
When Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office in 1974, Richard Nixon did not attend. His resignation from office took effect about a half-hour earlier. By then, Nixon already departed the White House grounds from an Army helicopter.
Four other presidents did not attend Inauguration Day events of their successors. But you must go back a long way in history to find them.
The most recent was Woodrow Wilson. Ninety-nine years ago, Wilson, who had suffered a bad stroke in 1919, did not attend Warren G. Harding’s inauguration ceremony in March of 1921. You can excuse poor health as a valid reason to miss it.
Martin Van Buren did not attend the inauguration of William Henry Harrison in 1841.
Prior to that, John Adams skipped the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801. John Quincy Adams did not attend Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829. And Andrew Johnson skipped Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1869.
Donald Trump will become the seventh living president to not attend the swearing-in of his successor. Historians say in terms of “boycotting” an inauguration, Trump will be the fourth president to do so. (They don’t include Nixon, Wilson or Van Buren in the “boycott” list.)
Given the Capitol insurrection, I think that in this case, it may well be for the best that Trump skips Biden’s big moment. But I think it’s an inexcusable shame that such a need exists.
New president, old conflicts
For the idealists on the left, I must break some news to you: the nation’s problems won’t disappear because a different leader is in charge.
It’d be nice. But it doesn’t work that way. It has never worked that way.
Those on the right who considered Trump to be their savior when he followed Barack Obama can’t argue that all of our problems are solved. And those who felt as much joy when Obama took over from George W. Bush can’t say that, either.
Even Ronald Reagan, who won by as much of a landslide as any president in recent memory didn’t solve all of the problems by the end of his eight years in office.
Lately, since I dropped cable TV and switched to a service called Philo, I’ve managed to find classic reruns of Norman Lear’s All in the Family. I marvel now at how well the show translates over time. The arguments waged on those old reruns still resonate. And the debates still have not been settled. Even after 50 years.
That says something amazing about the writers of that show. It says something less than amazing about our country’s ability to solve its own trouble.
I spent some of the last four years reminding my friends on the left that they can’t validly say Trump “wasn’t their president.” The people who were angered by such a thought, of course, had no problem making the same claim about Obama or, now, Biden.
Until we as a nation realize that the current president is everyone’s president, we’ll continue to be part of the problem.
Joe Biden won’t be able to solve that no matter what he does.
That’s on us.