Friday, Jan. 20 is Inauguration Day – a big deal in Washington, DC, but in most of the rest of the country it’s just another workday. Kind of like the ACC Tournament days around here, where people will gravitate toward a television for the big moment.
I hope Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has been practicing because if he messes up, like he did for the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, then the left will go nuts and claim Trump isn’t president.
Roberts actually went back to the White House the next day and they got the words in the right order, just to make sure.
I’m not going to the inauguration. I considered it, but I’ve attended two, and thinking about the number of times the people who are there are going to be wanded and searched makes me think it’s a great event to watch on my computer.
The Muse and I were living on Capitol Hill when President George H.W. Bush was inaugurated in 1989. On the morning of Jan. 20, we decided on the spur of the moment to skip work and go watch the inauguration. We had no tickets and there wasn’t any security where we ended up, which in retrospect was pretty close to the action.
One of the things that amazed me is that there was absolutely no sound system for the crowd who didn’t have tickets. The event was set up for the invited guests, apparently with no consideration for the large crowd that would be outside the ropes.
Evidently this was nothing new and folks who had been around for a while knew that you had to bring a radio if you wanted to hear the speakers. So back behind the ropes the crowd divided into little bunches of people all huddled around someone with a radio. We watched the tiny figures on the steps to the Capitol go through the ceremony while listening to some of the speech on the radio.
For millennials, we couldn’t listen on our phones because cell phones were extremely rare in 1989. The few that existed were the size and weight of bricks, and the only thing you could do with one was make a telephone call – if you could get service, which even in Washington, D.C., was spotty.
One of the surprising things about that day was the sudden drop in temperature. For the inauguration I was comfortable wearing a sport coat; by the time for the parade we were both freezing, so we went in the Old Post Office, now a Trump hotel, to watch the parade. I imagine Friday it will be as hard to get into the Trump hotel as it is to get tickets to the inauguration itself.
I also attended the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005. I had press credentials but got locked out of the Capitol building before I could get to them. I didn’t believe that the deadline to pick them up was a hard deadline, since most of the time they are not, and if you’re polite but persistent you can talk your way in.
I did get into the Senate office building with a Senate pass that I had gotten in 1999 for Clinton’s impeachment hearings. The security guard, fortunately for me, was too busy to notice the date.
Sen. Richard Burr kindly found a ticket for me and I started the process of being searched, and searched again. I ended up not much closer to the action than I had been in 1989 without tickets. The big difference was that by the time I got inside the ropes, I had been through three security checkpoints, which is one of the reasons I’m not going Friday. If it took three security checkpoints in 2005, I can’t imagine how many it is going to take in 2017.
I also remember standing on the sidewalk in front of the White House the week after an inauguration with a former White House staffer. He said, “Last week I could have walked up, flashed my pass at the guard and walked in, no questions asked. If I tried that now, I’d probably end up in handcuffs.”
It is quite a change of lifestyle for those who were working in the White House, as well as for those who are on their way to White House offices.
When I was in Washington, I worked for two business partners who had met when they were the only two White House staffers who rode motorcycles to work. We had a number of former White House employees in and out of the office.
One co-worker was particularly insightful about his days in the White House. He said he was doing essentially the same job he had done before going to the White House, and calling the same people. He said the huge difference was that when he called them working as a consultant, most of the time he got put on hold, was told the person he wanted to talk to was in a meeting, had gone to lunch or was otherwise unavailable. But he said when he added “at the White House” after his name, the access was immediate. People were pulled out of meetings or grabbed in the hallway if they actually were on their way to lunch, and he received profuse apologies and home phone numbers if someone he was trying to reach actually wasn’t in the office.
What he said was that many of those working in the White House let that power get to their heads. After breathing that rarified air for a few months, they started thinking people were responding to them, not to the White House, and it was a huge shock for them when they got out in the real world and people didn’t run to the phone to talk to them and their messages didn’t get immediately returned.
So next week there are going to be all of these people who are shocked that they are being treated like ordinary citizens, and a group just as shocked that suddenly they can get anyone in the world on the phone.
One more note. With all the appointments that President-elect Donald Trump has to make, you see a lot of lists of possible appointments. We had a guy working in our office for a while who was on the short list to be secretary of energy.
He had left his job because the word had come down that he was getting the appointment. The word turned out to be premature and for some reason the appointment was held up for months. He had no job and no income, but his bills kept coming in. Nobody at that point would hire him because he was still on the short list and nobody knew when the appointment would be made.
He didn’t get the job, but by that time he just wanted a decision to be made so he could get on with his life, which he did.
Once he wasn’t on the short list anymore, he got hired almost immediately, making more money than he would have as secretary of energy, which he needed since he had been living off his rapidly dwindling savings.
But since then, whenever I hear about short lists for appointments, I think that’s not as great as it sounds.