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In the end, the inauguration ceremony, which was closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, went off without a hitch.
On January 20, 2021, at 12 p.m. EST, the presidency of Donald Trump ended and Joe Biden officially became the president of the United States. As many noted on the day – including former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – the inauguration ceremony is as much about celebrating a peaceful transfer of power as it is swearing in a new president.
While Inauguration Day was the conclusion of an election process that dragged on longer than usual, for millions of Americans it was supposed to be something else entirely. Dedicated Republicans who had been led to believe the election was stolen, as well as adherents to the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, were holding out hope that Trump, through some turn of events, would hold onto power.
In the end, the inauguration ceremony, which was closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, went off without a hitch. There were no attacks on Washington, DC, a serious concern after the January 6 coup attempt at the US Capitol. And, in the end, the predictions that Biden and his fellow Democrats were walking into a Trump-set trap did not pan out.
Here is what did – and didn’t – happen on Inauguration Day.
What happened on Inauguration Day
With COVID-19 still raging in the country, the Inauguration Day festivities were closed to the public. Other than family members, politicians, journalists and 25,000 National Guard troops (on hand to provide security against possible attacks), there were no public crowds in Washington, DC to watch Biden’s swearing in and inaugural address, nor the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris.
That didn’t keep the day from being filled with celebrity guests and musical performances from some of the biggest names in pop music.
The swearing-in ceremony, held at midday at the US Capitol, included appearances by Lady Gaga, who sang the US national anthem, Jennifer Lopez, singing a medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful,” and Garth Brooks, closing out the ceremony with “Amazing Grace.”
Prior to those musical performances, Harris was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It was noted during the ceremony that Sotomayor is the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Supreme Court, while Harris is the first woman, first Black person and first person of Asian descent to serve as vice president.
Biden’s swearing-in began slightly before noon, the official time when he became president. As is tradition, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office, which Biden recited while placing his hand on a family Bible from the 19th century.
After being sworn in, Biden gave his inaugural speech, which lasted roughly 20 minutes. In it, Biden called for unifying the nation, while acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead for his presidency. His speech touched on the pandemic, the struggling economy, the fight for racial justice, the threats of political extremism and white supremacy, and the divisions in the country.
“We will press forward with speed and urgency,” Biden assured, “for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, the new president and vice president were joined by former presidents and vice presidents (and their spouses) for a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. That was followed by the Biden and Harris families walking down the street to the White House in a far more subdued inauguration parade than in past years.
In the evening, Tom Hanks hosted a 90-minute celebration that included more musical guests and speeches from Biden, Harris and other politicians and celebrities, including former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. The event, entitled “Celebrating America,” focused on unifying America after years of division.
Musical performances featured Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato, John Legend, Foo Fighters, Tyler Hubbard and Tim McGraw, New Radicals, Black Pumas, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake and Ant Clemons, and Katy Perry, who closed out the evening singing her song “Firework” while an elaborate firework display took place behind her, highlighting the Washington Memorial.
What didn’t happen on Inauguration Day
For most viewers, watching either on TV or by livestream, the inauguration events were a mix of staid political theater and celebrity-saturated spectacle. However, for millions of Americans who had been told by Trump and conservative media outlets like OAN and Newsmax that the election had been stolen, Inauguration Day was supposed to be so much more.
In mid-November, after Biden had been declared the winner of the election by every major news outlet, a YouGov survey found 47% of Republicans still expected Trump to be sworn in for a second term. In the two months since then, Trump and fellow Republicans continued to push the false claim that the Democrats had rigged election machines and state laws to steal the election.
By January 20, Trump and his legal team had suffered dozens of losses in court and the various supposed mechanisms for stopping Biden from being certified as president had all come up short. It culminated in the January 6 attack at the US Capitol in which pro-Trump rioters attempted, but ultimately failed, to stop Congress from certifying the electoral college vote.
After the violent coup attempt, which resulted in five deaths and many injuries, the National Guard was called into DC for the inauguration to prevent any possible attacks. There were also concerns that violence could erupt in state capitols around the country. In the end, though, no violence occurred.
Adherents of QAnon had also been bracing for a major event on Inauguration Day. After more than three years of oblique promises of a coming “storm,” Trump’s election loss came as a shock to the movement’s loyal believers.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that claims Trump was fighting against the “Deep State” to reveal a Satanic cabal of Democratic pedophiles. The movement was created by an anonymous online poster known only as “Q” who has spent years claiming in vague language that Trump would use the military to enact mass arrests of his enemies.
Many QAnon followers believed the conspiracy theories about election fraud and assumed that at the last minute Trump would reclaim the presidency. In the process, they assumed, Biden, Harris and other Democrats in DC would be arrested. That, also, did not happen.
Ultimately, Trump’s presidency ended with little fanfare. He and his wife, Melania, skipped Biden’s inauguration. It was the first time in roughly 150 years that an outgoing president did not attend his successor’s inauguration. Instead, Trump had a private farewell ceremony and then flew to Florida.
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