MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s a historic day in our country that only takes place every four years. Those who study it say Wednesday’s presidential inauguration will be unlike any before.
So how does it compare to years past? Good Question.
Beyond the incoming president and vice president, there might not be a person more excited about inauguration day than Jim Bendat.
“We show our country and show the world what we’re about,” he said enthusiastically.
You could say he wrote the book on the event because he actually did. It’s called “Democracy’s Big Day – The Inauguration of Our President, 1789 – 2013.”
“But I’m very sad this year because…we’re not able to really show all the traditions,” he said.
One of those traditions we’ll miss is the symbolism of a peaceful transfer of power since President Donald Trump will not attend.
“Even after there’s tough battles, the vanquished have gotten together with the one who won the election and they had their peaceful meeting,” Bendat said. “They get together. They’re good sports about it, they’re not sore losers and we move on.”
President Trump’s decision to skip the event isn’t the first time that’s happened. John Adams did so in 1801, his son John Quincy Adams did as well in 1829, and Andrew Johnson followed suit in 1869.
Trump’s absence though might be trumped by the absence of a massive crowd to witness the ceremony. Tens of thousands of people packing the grounds west of the U.S. Capitol is usually a patriotic sight. This year, 200,000 flags will stand in their place mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even before the assault on the capitol on Jan. 6, we knew that the crowd would be smaller,” Bendat said.
Another concerning question: Will it be safe on Wednesday? With 25-thousand National Guard troops on hand to protect the event, Bendat said it’s undoubtedly the largest security presence ever. He adds security has been strong at every inauguration since 9/11, but troops have protected the Capitol for this historic event in years past.
“Back in the Civil War inaugurals for Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and 1865 there were a lot of federal troops there, too. But we’ve never had any disruption,” he said.
The threat of an attack on the Capitol has led many to wonder why the event isn’t just moved indoors. Bendat again referenced the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and how Congress reconvened later that evening to finish their vote to certify the election.
“It was symbolic and it was important that the work continue in the same location as it was planned,” he said. By going forward with the inauguration as planned, Bendat said, “It shows that democracy still works. That mob rule will not control the situation, that we certainly will have the new president and the ceremony protected.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, the head of the congressional committee overseeing the inauguration, agrees with that sentiment.
“That fact that we do [the inauguration] and where we do it matters. And it’s really important to maintain that sense of both the continuity of both our constitution and our democracy,” he said.
On a lighter note, Bendat also keeps an eye out for quirky moments on Inauguration Day.
One involves a frigid Inauguration Day in March 1869 for President Ulysses S. Grant. He said organizers forgot to heat the room where the inaugural ball was held. Attendees had to continue wearing their overcoats and winter gear on the dance floor as the food inside started to freeze.
There’s also the time the podium caught fire during the invocation for John F. Kennedy in 1961. A photo of the moment shows a look of concern on the faces of outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower and JFK as smoke starts billowing from the lectern area. It turned out to be an electrical issue and the fire was quickly put out.
Ultimately, that ceremony was most remembered for JFK’s inaugural speech.
The tradition of the presidential speech along with the oath of office will remain this year. The oath is the sole connection to our country’s first ever inauguration.
“George Washington all the way to Joe Biden, same 35 words and that’s a special moment,” he said.
So how will this inauguration be remembered? To Bendat, it will be sad yet poignant.
“It’s going to be sad because of the circumstance that took place on January the sixth and the fact that Trump made the decision not to be part of the peaceful transition of power. But it’s also going to be poignant and memorable because our democracy lives on,” he said. “We have the first woman ever being sworn in as either a president or vice president. That in itself makes it a very historic day.”
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Source: CBS Minnesota