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Opinion: Trump won’t attend Biden’s inauguration. Thank goodness

First Lady Michelle Obama, Melania Trump, President-elect Donald Trump and President Obama meet at Trump's inauguration.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcome President-elect Donald Trump and Melania Trump to the White House before Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump, his Twitter privileges restored, tweeted this on Friday morning:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

For the record:

12:31 PM, Jan. 08, 2021An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that President Ford would be fourth president not to attend the swearing-in of his successor.

To which we should all respond: “Thank God.”

Before Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol by a Trump-worshipping mob, you could have argued that Trump’s presence at Biden’s swearing-in might somewhat restore the norms Trump trashed in spreading lies about a “rigged” election.

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But as long as Trump continues to maintain that he really won the election — even as he grudgingly promises “a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power” — his presence wouldn’t promote national reconciliation. In what is being called a “hostage video” on Thursday, the closest Trump came to admitting defeat was to say that “Congress has certified the results” and “a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th.”

Vice President Mike Pence’s attendance at the inauguration would give it a bipartisan character. Pence reportedly plans to participate, but hasn’t received a formal invitation. Biden should be sure that he receives one. George W. Bush, the only living Republican former president, also plans to attend. (On Friday Biden said he would welcome Pence’s attendance.)

Trump will be only the fifth president not to attend the swearing-in of an elected successor. The last one, Andrew Johnson in 1869, was also impeached and disgraced — too-eerie parallels. (Richard Nixon, who resigned because of the Watergate scandal, was on a plane on his way to California when his vice president, Gerald Ford, was sworn in on Aug. 9, 1974.)

One argument for Trump’s attendance is that it might dampen protests by his supporters on Inauguration Day. But you can just as easily argue that his presence would rile up Trump cultists, who would be unlikely to interpret his presence as a sincere acceptance of Biden’s legitimacy.

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Weighing the relative probability of those scenarios isn’t worth anyone’s time. A truly smooth transition of power requires what Trump is unwilling to provide: a recognition that Biden was duly and fairly elected and a recantation of the outrageous lies that fueled Wednesday’s insurrection.

But there’s also a moral argument against Trump’s attendance. He simply has no right to participate in the inaugural ceremonies after encouraging his followers to participate in a “wild” protest on the day Congress met to count electoral votes — a protest that turned into a deadly siege.

Whether or not Trump is impeached again, he has no legitimacy to confer on Biden with his presence at the inauguration. His loathsome presence would only taint the proceedings.


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