In the past few days, we have heard a lot about tomorrow’s inauguration. At 11:30 a.m., Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as President, in a suitably precedent-shattering ceremony. Not only have his planners had the most difficult time in recent memory finding musicians to perform during the 3-day extravaganza, but the last few days have also seen unprecedented boycotts by various Democratic congressmen and women. Practically unnoticed in all this commotion, however, are the bloated price tag and enormous schedule of events. Over the past few presidencies, the cost of inaugurations have been growing at a steady and alarming rate. For Bush in 2000, it was 114 million dollars. For Obama in 2008, it was 170 million.
Trump, apparently, made an effort to apply his vaunted business acumen to the festivities, and trimmed down everything. He will attend fewer balls, deliver a shorter address, lead a shorter parade, and attend fewer luncheons than Obama did. This “workmanlike” schedule is designed, according to Trump’s inaugural committee, to let him get to work as soon as possible, and, more importantly, to make the event better suited for television. Despite these cuts, the fewer days require less security, as well as fewer (and less expensive!) performers to pay, but the projected cost of the event is still 200 million dollars, significantly more expensive than Obama’s inauguration.
Regardless of these cuts, the overall schedule of events will be fairly similar. The day before the inauguration is a series of concerts and events, in this case headlined by groups such as the Republican Hindu Coalition and various high school choruses, culminating in the Make America Great Again! Welcome concert and fireworks, hosted by Toby Keith. The next day, after this tough act to follow, is the inauguration proper, with the usual prayer at the beginning of the day, followed by a procession, ceremony (with live music!), address, parade, and finally appearances at a succession of balls.
In its original form, the inauguration was a low-key affair. George Washington received an honor guard on his way to take his oath and make a brief address, but that honor reflected the veneration Americans had for the “father of their country” rather than any pomp reserved for the office of the President. Following that same tradition, Adams and Jefferson had similarly austere inaugurations, with Jefferson famously walking from his lodgings to the White House to swear the oath of office. As presidents came and went, and the power of the executive office grew, each introduced new, customary events. With Madison came the ball, with Eisenhower the parade, with Kennedy the morning prayers, and slowly but surely, today’s elaborate ritual came together. Ultimately, though, the President ought to be the executor of Congressional bills, not a creator of policy. A public servant, not a king. A leader, not a celebrity. So perhaps this change is symbolic of a new direction for the presidency. Perhaps it is a reassertion of the role the founders envisioned. Perhaps it’s simple, businessmanlike efficiency, saving money wherever possible. But this is Trump we’re talking about.