During his inauguration speech in 1981, President Ronald Reagan spoke about how the United States goes through the common ritual of having an inauguration ceremony every four years, even if it seems unusual to other nations.
“In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle,” Reagan said.
Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony in which Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States seemed to fit Reagan’s description perfectly, given the event went on in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just more than two weeks after protesters forced an evacuation of the U.S. Capitol building.
While many aspects of the inauguration ran the same as always, here are seven ways that the 2021 inauguration will go down in history as being quite different.
1. Crowds of people replaced by crowds of flags
It has become tradition over the past few decades for the National Mall to be filled with people who have traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness history and the festivities of the president being sworn in.
Due to the pandemic, and to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus, the general public wasn’t allowed to attend. Instead, nearly 200,000 flags were planted along the lawns of the National Mall where people normally would have been.
The flags were quite a breathtaking sight.
2. First woman inaugurated as vice president
Four years after Hillary Clinton just missed out on being inaugurated as the first female president in U.S. history, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female vice president. Harris said she wore purple in honor of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president in 1972.
Lawmakers and their family members who were in attendance were adorned in masks. If the pandemic gets under control and we return to a mask-free “normal,” it will probably be easy to distinguish this year’s inauguration in the history books.
4. No lunch
Usually after the ceremony, there is an extravagant lunch in the Capitol Rotunda with the new president, politicians and other representatives. That wasn’t the case after Biden’s speech, as members of Congress weren’t allowed back inside the Capitol, when Biden was present.
5. No parade
Typically, there has been a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue for the new president to go on before officially taking residence at the White House. It commonly includes a short walk for the president and the first lady. That didn’t take place this year.
Instead, Biden received a military escort, and a virtual parade was held with events around the country. The virtual parade included live performances by military bands.
6. No inaugural ball
Instead of the traditional ball at night, the lavish celebration was replaced by a 90-minute television special hosted by Tom Hanks. It featured musicians and more words from Biden and Harris.
7. No outgoing president
Before Wednesday, the last president to skip his successor’s inauguration was Andrew Johnson in 1869. But President Donald Trump opted to skip Biden’s ceremony, leaving the White House in the morning and landing in Florida just before the inauguration festivities began. The only other living president not in attendance was Jimmy Carter, who is 96 and physically wasn’t able to be there.
Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were all in attendance with their wives.