Plans being drawn up for the 46th President’s big swearing-in ceremony next month make clear that his inauguration will be unlike any in the modern age
— parades, inaugural balls and all the razzmatazz of the quadrennial knees-up will likely be shut down by the coronavirus. But we already know there will be space on Washington’s National Mall for citizens to spread out and safely watch Biden take the oath in front of the US Capitol; the proof is in the huge gaps seen in Trump’s inauguration crowd in 2017, which sent him into a rage at the time.
South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, who chairs Biden’s inaugural committee, told CNN on Tuesday that the inauguration would be 75% to 80% virtual
, similar to the slickly produced but sometimes rather flat Democratic National Convention. It’s fitting for the grave times — no smart politician wants to be seen whooping it up while millions of Americans are unemployed. Canceling glitzy gatherings will also strike an immediate contrast with the super spreader events still hosted by Trump.
Still, losing the festivities comes at a cost. These ceremonies, a symbolic centerpiece of America’s peaceful transfer of power, have been used by past presidents after bitter elections to forge a sense of national unity — which the US badly needs now.
It’s hard to imagine Trump sitting still for the ritual drive up to Capitol Hill with incoming commander in chief Biden on Inauguration Day, or standing by as his rival is sworn into office. If he doesn’t show at all, senior Republican leaders will be forced to decide on their own whether they are finally ready to put country before politics.
‘Outdated Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices’
Beijing hasn’t given up on its relationship with the US
, China’s foreign minister declared in a video address at the US-China Business Council on Monday. “(We should) strive to restart the dialogue, get back to the right track and rebuild mutual trust in the next phase of Sino-US relations,” FM Wang Yi said, according to a transcript published on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website. He blamed the current tension between the US and China on certain Americans’ “outdated Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices.”
The problem with the perfect choice
He’s known as a man of integrity. As a former general who headed US Central Command, he learned the lesson of US Middle East wars firsthand. No one makes it to the top of US military brass without being a talented political operator. And once in position as the first Black Pentagon chief, he’d send an important message about equality to the rest of America and to the ranks.
Yet there is a problem. Austin retired from the military only four years ago. The law requires former military officers to be civilians for at least seven years before taking the Pentagon’s top civilian job — a rule that enshrines the constitutional principle that the military is subordinate to civilian command. Congress could waive the requirement, but it’s been done only twice. First for Gen. George Marshall, a national hero who served as the Army chief of staff during World War II; then for Trump’s first defense secretary, James Mattis, who legislators hoped would be a moderating influence on the novice commander in chief.
Those circumstances don’t apply here. Biden is one of the most experienced new presidents to take office in decades, and while Austin is respected
, he’s not a towering national figure. Critics of Austin’s candidacy, revealed by sources to CNN, worry that his appointment risks permanently obliterating a crucial governmental guardrail: In the tug-of-war between the armed forces and civilian power establishments, a defense secretary too deeply rooted in the military might fall on the wrong side of the line.
The military is one of the last bastions in American life that enjoy bipartisan support and respect. If the carrot of a top civilian job dangles before serving generals, it could create an incentive to play politics and ultimately damage the military’s apolitical reputation on which that trust stands.
The new normal
Ceremonies and traditions around the world are being adapted for Covid-19. In one remote village in Rajasthan, India, wedding finery was replaced with hazmat suits after the bride tested positive for Covid-19. Read more here.