With pairs of black folding chairs socially distanced on Capitol Hill and the National Mall closed to the public, the 2021 presidential inauguration saw only a few thousand people in attendance, not accounting for the 25,000 National Guard members patrolling Washington, D.C.
Nearly 200,000 flags were planted at the National Mall to represent people who would normally attend the inauguration but were not able to because of coronavirus restrictions and security measures.
Former presidents and first ladies, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, Cabinet members, diplomats and President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ family members were invited to attend in person.
While Biden and Harris waved at guests and listened to musical performances from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks, they were sworn in as president and vice president of the United States.
Chad Kinsella, Ball State assistant professor of political science, said the Biden-Harris inauguration was “different from any inauguration in the past and possibly future.”
Social distancing precautions shaped the small gatherings and online celebrations that welcomed Biden and Harris into the White House.
There was also increased security at the Capitol after a Jan. 6 mob of extremists disrupted the certification process of Electoral College votes in the House and Senate. According to the FBI, more than 100 people have been arrested for their actions in the Capitol riot, including people linked to militia organization Oath Keepers and political extremist group the Proud Boys.
Kinsella said he thinks future inaugurations might see increased security because of the violence leading up to the 2021 ceremony. For this year, Kinsella said, security was “much more focused, given the event [didn’t] have the crowds associated with past events.”
Tessa McKenney, junior advertising major and vice president of the Ball State College Democrats, said she fears for the safety of Biden and Harris after the recent riot.
“I certainly hope that this disturbing act of attempted insurrection will serve as a singular incident and will not set a precedent for future inaugurations,” she said. “However, this event is representative of the greater culture of violence, bigotry and distrust in our democracy that has been cultivated by Donald Trump and fellow Republicans in the past four years.”
McKenney said she hopes Trump supporters will accept the results of the 2020 election as legitimate “to allow us to move forward as a country.”
“I look to see positive changes of hope and healing across the country after the inauguration of the Biden-Harris Administration,” she said. “It will certainly be a relief to trust that we have elected competent leaders that will work to pick up the pieces of our democracy.”
Chase Braden, junior social studies education major and chairman of the Ball State College Republicans, said he was disappointed by the election results but believes Biden and Harris “should be shown the respect that [their] offices demand” now that they’ve taken the oath of office.
Braden said he was concerned that so many National Guard troops surrounding the Capitol on and before Inauguration Day sent a message that democracy was inaccessible. He said he was reminded of military parades in Russia and China after seeing troops surround Washington, D.C. Regardless, Braden said he agrees with Biden’s calls to unify the country and thinks COVID-19 should be the top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration.
“I think the handling of COVID will make or break the Biden-Harris Administration, as it obviously affected the Trump-Pence Administration,” Braden said. “If they can't create a plan that most Americans can get on board with, then I think they will find it extremely hard to advance their other priorities.”
As many statehouses around the country experienced small protests the week leading up to Biden and Harris’ inauguration, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state government complex in Indianapolis would be closed to the public Jan. 19-20. Though no credible threats were made against the Statehouse, Holcomb said he wanted to “err on the side of caution.”
Ball State also saw more security in place around campus while students began the move-in process for the spring semester.
With the national unrest and division surrounding Inauguration Day and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the University Police Department (UPD) took extra measures to ensure students felt safe.
“UPD will be vigilant in addressing unlawful behavior and threats of violence directed at our community,” said Kathy Wolf, Ball State vice president for marketing and communications, via email.
In an email sent to students Jan. 14, Ball State Provost Susana Rivera-Mills and Vice President of Student Affairs Ro-Anne Royer Engle sent a joint statement to students ensuring that returning to campus was the best option before Inauguration Day.
“We must draw strength from the examples of those who have courageously brought about positive change. We now have an opportunity to do the same by exhibiting peace, caring for one another and embracing our institutional values,” Rivera-Mills and Royer Engle said in the email.
UPD increased the number of officers on campus at a time to create a visible presence and help students feel safe. They will also continue to closely monitor information about violent threats at the local, state and national level.
The university also extended hours for the campus buses and Charlie’s Charter to ensure students have safe options to get around campus at night.
Kinsella said, with the increased number of police officers around campus, the Ball State community will be “completely safe here.”
He added that Ball State students might see stimulus checks and a focused national response to the coronavirus under the Biden-Harris administration, but tangible changes will probably not be immediate.
“Locally, I do not think much will change at all,” Kinsella said. “Given how little influence the federal government has on our everyday life and how slowly it will take to get COVID under control, I expect things to remain very similar to the way things are now until the summer or fall.”