A recap of the historic 2021 Presidential Inauguration

On Jan. 20, 2021, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.  Though social media may indicate otherwise, the inauguration did not consist merely of Bernie Sanders donning handmade mittens.

Biden’s victory was historic even prior to his swearing in.  He was the first presidential candidate to ever win more than eighty million votes – 81,283,098, to be exact – and, therefore, won more votes than any other presidential candidate in history.  Continuing the trend, the 2020 election produced the largest voter turnout ever recorded in the United States, and the highest turnout percentage (66.7%) in over a century.  

“It seemed as if everyone had an opinion (positive or negative) of President Trump, which drove voter turnout to its highest levels in modern history in order to exercise that opinion at the voting booth,” said social studies teacher Mr. Muhlbauer.

Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate and current Vice President, also made history, as the first woman, first African American woman, and Indian-American elected to national office.

The electoral count, on Jan. 6, was presided over in the Senate by former Vice President Mike Pence.  The process was disrupted by the insurrection at the Capitol; however despite the violence, members of Congress reconvened in the late evening  and continued its joint session.  Objections were brought against the electoral confirmations in the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, but, after bicameral debate, both objections were rejected.  Finally, at 3:32 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 7, Joe Biden’s count of 306 electoral votes was confirmed.

The 2021 inauguration was unlike any other.  Due to concerns there would be a repeat of the insurrection during the inauguration, security measures were heightened.  Over 20,000 National Guard troops were at the Capitol on Jan. 20, along with some U.S. Customs and Border Patrol surveillers flying overhead.  Washington, D.C. at large felt the impact of increased security as some streets, including Pennsylvania Avenue, were fenced off or shut down, and the National Mall had been closed since the prior Friday.  The National Park Service allotted two “First Amendment Zones” for peaceful demonstrators along Pennsylvania Avenue with strict capacities of 100 people per zone enforced.  

“The new security restrictions at the inauguration [were] completely justified.  It was important for Joe Biden, his staff, and Americans to feel safe,” said sophomore Bryson Shaub.

The FBI had also warned that armed protests were being planned in all 50 state capitals as well as in Washington, D.C.  The organizers of these protests were citizens who still refused to accept the election results.  No violent mass protests or militia uprisings occurred in Washington, D.C. or any state capital, perhaps because many political leaders called for their followers to stay home and safe.

COVID-19 created a need for even more unusual restrictions.  Only 200 people – all of whom wore masks, socially distanced, and had tested negative for the virus – were allowed on the inaugural stage, and there were about 1,000 total in-person attendees.  This small crowd meant limited tickets were issued, and the typical viewing stands and crowded National Mall were no more.  Instead, the National Mall was filled with almost 200,000 flags.  

“It was very comforting to see that the new administration is taking COVID-19 seriously.  It shows that being high-up… doesn’t make you immune to COVID,’ said senior Charlotte Kerpen.

Another COVID-19 measure taken was the elimination of the parades, Congressional luncheons, and inaugural balls that typically occur after the inaugural ceremony.  Instead, the Biden Inaugural Committee organized “Celebrating America,” an event hosted by Tom Hanks, Kerry Washington, and Eva Longoria that aired on television the night of Jan. 20.  It featured performances from John Legend, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, and others.  It also featured Brayden Harrington, a young boy who worked with President Biden to overcome his stutter.  The COVID-19 Memorial Ceremony on Jan. 19 was also rebroadcast as a part of the event.  The festivities closed with Katy Perry’s performance of “Firework,” accompanied by a fireworks display from the Washington Monument.

Despite many novel aspects, the Biden inauguration was still impactful and ceremonial.  Lady Gaga performed the National Anthem, while Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful,” closing with the final line of the Pledge of Allegiance spoken in Spanish.  Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, moved the audience with her work, “The Hill We Climb,” sending a message of hope while emphasizing the need to constantly strive to improve the country as one.  Biden’s inaugural address also highlighted his continuing theme of national unity.

“In such a divided time, Amanda Gorman’s poetry perfectly captured how many Americans were feeling at that moment, and brought tears to my eyes,” said Kerpen.

The inauguration saw its fair share of guests of honor.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore in Vice President Kamala Harris, and Chief Justice John Roberts swore in President Biden.

“It warmed my heart to see so many influential women at President Biden’s Inauguration.  Seeing Vice President Harris’ oath of office assured me that women can indeed achieve positions of leadership in our country,” said junior Meiling Laurence.

The audience included former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and their respective former First Ladies.  Former President Trump was not in attendance, but former Vice President Mike Pence was.  Many members of Congress were also at the event, including Bernie Sanders (and his now meme-worthy mittens).

With this unique inauguration, America overcame obstacles and peacefully transitioned into a new administration.  Joe Biden perhaps best epitomized it himself, for as he said in his inaugural address about meeting challenges and overcoming them together in order to improve the world, “I believe we must… I believe we will.”