Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama with spouses were present at the inaugurations of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. When asked why attend the Trump inauguration given his treatment of them in the campaign. both the Clintons and Bush said it was to “honor the peaceful transition of power.” At the end of the short dystopian speech, George W. Bush was reported to have summed up the general reaction with: “That was some weird shit.”
Not surprising, since it was written by Steven Bannon and Steve Miller, Trump’s two leading proponents of populism and nationalism. The speech began with an attack on the Washington establishment sitting behind him and then described a vision of the country he labeled “American carnage.” It proposed a nationalism that closed borders and put "America first." He ended with a pledge that he was the singular leader to start the winning and would never let people down.
Shortly after the speech, a long-running argument raged around Trump’s claim that he had the largest crowed in inaugural history. It wasn’t – estimated at 600,000. President Obama had one million in 2012 and 1.8 million in 2008. The speech was quickly received by European populists, anti-globalists, Euroskeptics and others as an affirmation of their movements.
Biden’s subdued inauguration had little audience, but a record number of troops and everyone was masked. It was a longer speech and offered a much more hopeful vision of the country. Given the pandemic and recent transition culminating in a riot in the Capitol, he spoke more of unity and the relief democracy had survived the last four years. He focused his speech on the hardship the virus had caused and promised it would receive his full attention. Also, he pressed on the desire for racial justice and the need to defeat political extremism.
Donald Trump was not at the speech. The peaceful transfer of power was never something he intended to “honor.”