VIDEO | 03:40
LA Times Today: Patt Says - 2021 presidential inauguration unlike any other

LA Times Today: Patt Says - 2021 presidential inauguration unlike any other

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.

This is NOT how it’s supposed to be.

An American presidential inauguration is not supposed to look like a militarized no-man’s-land.

It is supposed to be festive; the national mall is meant to be crowded with people celebrating the new president and vice president, or another four years of the same ones.

The Capitol’s grand public spaces are not supposed to be bristling with fencing and concertina wire, like a prison or a hostile frontier:

In 1945, the nation was waging world war, and for security reasons, president Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in on the portico of the White House. In the 75 years since then, every subsequent president except three have been sworn in in public, at the Capitol.

Those three, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford, became president because of sudden death, assassination and resignation. Two were hastily sworn in at the White House, and one aboard Air Force One, with his murdered predecessor lying in a coffin a few feet away.

I covered the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton, and being there makes it sink in – the magnitude of what a peaceful handoff of authority really means, and what a symbol it is to the rest of the world.

Here is what I wrote then:

“In that moment and in this place -- the radiant-white west front of the Capitol building -- the massed powers of the country pledged once again to set aside their divisions and bind their passions to 35 spoken words that transfer the whole rich, armored might of the United States from one pair of hands to another.”

So different from most of human history: not a war, not a coup, not an assassination, but 35 words of an oath composed nearly 250 years ago.

Inauguration Day is really inauguration week in D.C. … people out in the streets at all hours, restaurants full, parties booming, souvenir sellers and street performers out in force.

Not this time.

Part of the aberration are the safety measures required by COVID.

But the gut-punch part is because of the fear created not by a foreign enemy, but by some Americans’ extremist, violent denialism of obvious election results.

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama’s inauguration had the biggest crowd in history, maybe as many as 1.8 million people. The second one, to my surprise, was Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965, by one estimate 1.2 million people.

In 2017, Donald Trump said this in his inaugural speech:

“Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.”

What a shame for our country and the world that his successor to a tradition of centuries cannot say the same thing.