On January 20, every four years, the winner of the US presidential election takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the US Constitution during a solemn ceremony, which formally inaugurates the election winner in the White House.
Traditionally, the outgoing president and the losing candidate also participate. In Donald Trump’s case, he is both, but he is anything but a standard bearer of tradition and custom.
Dagbladet has asked three Norwegian US experts if they think Trump will participate in Biden’s inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2021.
They answer “no”, “yes” and “well” respectively.
US expert Hilmar Mjelde, a researcher at the Norce Research Center, does not think Trump will participate.
– I do not think Trump will participate, it would be to validate the “coup” against him. Trump is now inventing an alternative story about the 2020 election in which he has been thrown into a coup by the political establishment. The irony is that it is Trump who has tried to steal the election he lost by getting the state authorities to set aside the election result, Mjelde tells Dagbladet.
– What can he do to avoid an attendance?
– He would probably like to direct a kind of Leni Riefenstahl-like exit where he pulls like a Jeanne d’Arc with his head raised. Or he just sticks in the silence. In any case, it is not for him to just be an audience member.
Riefenstahl was a German filmmaker who, among other things, produced propaganda films for Adolf Hitler. Jeanne d’Arc is a French national hero and saint, who during the Hundred Years’ War in the Middle Ages led France in battle against England until she was captured and executed.
US expert Anders Romarheim, a researcher at the Department of Defense Studies (IFS), part of the Norwegian Defense College (FHS), believes that there is the greatest chance that Trump will participate, but makes sufficient reservations.
– I would estimate that there is around a 40 percent chance that he will pose in a fairly normal way, a 30 percent chance that he will pose, but does mischief, and a 30 percent chance that he will not pose at all, Romarheim tells Dagbladet .
He believes that Trump currently appears to be preoccupied with his own legacy, and that it is therefore reasonable to believe that the president is therefore thinking carefully about how it will be perceived if he not stiller. That speaks for Trump’s position, Romarheim believes.
But, Romarheim quickly adds, to Dagbladet:
– If Trump is the losing president, he implicitly acknowledges that Biden won. That is why it is so far in the pipeline for Trump to ask.
The IFS researcher can easily envisage a third alternative, a kind of middle ground between silent and non-silent.
– Trump almost does not tolerate public settings where he himself is not in the center. To line up, but at the same time steal the show, is also likely. It is not difficult to imagine any of these scenarios, says Romarheim.
US expert Svein Melby, senior researcher at IFS, “hopes for the name of decency” that Trump poses.
– But to answer that question with certainty is impossible, he says to Dagbladet.
Melby believes that Trump these days is being subjected to strong social pressure by close advisers and supporters to attend the ceremony, even if it would mean an indirect recognition of defeat.
– If Trump intends to have a political future, and it is quite possible he has thoughts about it, then it is not a very good start to a new presidential campaign not to be present at this inauguration ceremony, Melby says.
He believes the math Trump has to deal with is clear: If Trump runs for president again, he will have to appeal to more voters than his own base.
– Then he needs voters who are in the middle between these parties, and many of them will look negatively at Trump not standing at the inauguration ceremony, Melby says.
Agree on Biden
Experts may disagree on whether Trump is running, but agree on how important it is for Joe Biden that Trump participate.
– Does Biden really want Trump there?
– Yes, Biden is an institutionalist. He is interested in tradition and good style. It is a symbolically important part of a peaceful transfer of power that the outgoing president participates. As political scientist Adam Przeworski says: democracy is a system where parties lose elections, answers Norce researcher Mjelde.
Romarheim agrees, and believes the most important thing for Biden in Trump’s possible participation is the signal it sends that Biden has won.
“It will make Biden’s task of gathering the parts of the United States that will come together easier,” he said.
Romarheim’s colleague Melby, draws similar conclusions.
– Biden is aware that he will hardly succeed in pulling the whole nation together, but there is no stronger picture of a divided nation, than the picture of an inauguration ceremony where the losing party does not stand.
Has it happened before?
Should Trump decide not to attend the inauguration ceremony of his successor, Trump will be a member of a historic small club.
Only a few presidents before him have refused to attend his successor’s inauguration ceremonies on January 20, the year after the election, according to Hilmar Mjelde.
– In that case, Trump will be the fourth president who does not participate. John Adams in 1801, John Quincy Adams in 1829 and Andrew Johnson in 1869 also did not participate in the inauguration of the successor, says Mjelde.
Richard Nixon was also absent when his Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in at the White House in 1974, after Nixon resigned as president. Then there was no public inauguration ceremony.