No matter where you stand politically, it can be agreed that it's been a wild four years. Particularly in 2020 and 2021 with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, nothing looks like it used to. That includes Inauguration Day: As incoming President Joe Biden replaced outgoing President Donald Trump, the comparisons between the two events are, let's say, something to behold. These photos of Biden's 2021 inauguration versus Trump's 2017 ceremony are a testament to the wild times we're living in.
Biden's inauguration comes two weeks after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in an apparent attempt to prevent the counting of the electoral votes that would confirm Biden's victory. To ensure Biden's inauguration ceremony was as safe as possible, several health and security experts had to weigh in, including the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As the coronavirus pandemic claimed thousands of lives in the days leading up to Biden's inauguration, FBI Security Director Christopher Wray warned of more potential violence at the Capitol ahead of the high-profile political event. "When we talk about potential threats," Wray stated during a Jan. 14 security briefing, "we are seeing an extensive amount of concerning online chatter ... about a number of events surrounding the inauguration."
As a result, Biden's inauguration's audience size was significantly reduced, and security measures were drastically enhanced — causing the president's 2021 ceremony to appear jarringly austere when compared to Trump's in 2017.
In 2017, Trump got mocked for claiming that he had a record inauguration crowd. (He didn't.) But as the Biden team discouraged people from traveling to the event due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was still a shocking comparison to Biden's crowd, which was more of a high-security military operation.
There's also, of course, the crowd of invited guests and not just spectators. In 2017, the Obamas — as well as the Bidens, then leaving their role as vice president and second lady — were present at the ceremony celebrating the peaceful transfer of power. "We are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent," Trump said of the Obamas in his inaugural address.
But in 2021, the Trumps were notably absent at Biden's inauguration, after Trump said he would skip the event and depart the White House in the early hours of the morning. (The Obamas turned out to support their old colleagues, though.)
Still, the National Mall was decorated with thousands of flags planted to represent Americans' inability to watch the inauguration in person. According to Newsweek, the approximately 191,500 flags also paid tribute to the over 400,000 people who have died from the coronavirus.
Biden also introduced a stacked lineup of celebrity performers. Lady Gaga delivered a hair-raising rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," while Jennifer Lopez sang "This Land Is Your Land," and Garth Brooks performed "Amazing Grace."
Back in 2017, Trump invited Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down, and Jackie Evancho to perform on Inauguration Day.
The speeches were quite different, too — while Biden's speech was inspiring (and honored the lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic), in 2017, Trump promised to drain the swamp of American politics. "For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost," he said in his speech. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth." Two impeachments later, it's unclear how well he's fulfilled that promise.
And of course — the inaugural balls. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, during which health officials recommend against large, in-person gatherings, the Bidens canceled the parties, which usually take place in the evening on Inauguration Day. Instead, they held a virtual parade and will televise an evening event called Celebrating America. Listen, we're all doing what we can.
Hopefully, by the time America's next presidential inauguration ceremony rolls around in four years, it'll look a little more lively.