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What to watch for during today’s presidential inauguration

The inauguration of President Barack Obama, January 20th 2009. Unrecognizable crowds in the Washington Mall.

For President-elect Donald J. Trump and his team, today has been more than a year and a half in the making. Inauguration Day represents the culmination of a long march to the nomination and a contentious race to the end—but it also represents a new chapter in our country’s history and a new era of leadership.

We asked two political science professors—William Mayer and interim department chair John Portz—to offer their thoughts on what to watch out for during Inauguration Day.

First, though, here’s what’s on the schedule, according to The New York Times.

While the swearing-in ceremony and the inaugural address anchor Inauguration Day, there are a lot of other pieces to the event, some of which began Thursday.

On Thursday, Trump kicked off his public schedule with an inaugural tradition: laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the nation’s fallen soldiers. Later, he hosted a “Make America Great Again!” welcome celebration, followed by a candlelight dinner with his family, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his family, and campaign donors.

Friday begins with a private prayer service, then a coffee date at the White House. Traditionally, the incoming and departing presidents meet at the White House, then ride together down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

Trump’s swearing-in ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. and features various musical performances. Around noon, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts will administer the oath of office as Trump rests his hand on two Bibles—one he’s owned since childhood and the Lincoln Bible, according to The New York Times. A newly-minted president, Trump will deliver his inaugural address.

Following Trump’s installment, President Barack Obama and his family will depart from the Capitol.

Next, Trump will attend a luncheon with government leaders and friends in the Capitol Rotunda that features musical performances. After lunch, he’ll review the armed forces from the East Front of the Capitol.

Following that is another well-known staple of the day—the inaugural parade. Trump and Pence will lead the parade from the Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue, then watch the end of it from a reviewing stand at the White House.

The day ends with three official inaugural balls, including the Armed Services Ball.

In the midst of all the festivities is the president’s inaugural address. Here’s what to watch for.

What are some of the themes we might expect to hear during Donald Trump’s inaugural address? Is there anything you feel is particularly important for him to touch upon?

Portz: Inaugural addresses tend to be more style than substance. They have broad themes and images rather than specific policy proposals, which are more common in a State of the Union address. Trump often defies the norm, so he may not follow that pattern, but I suspect this address will stay fairly broad. In various ways, he’s likely to build upon his “Make America Great Again” campaign theme. However, Trump also has conveyed this message of “it’s time to get to work,” so he could take this opportunity to highlight policy initiatives in a way that is not typical for these speeches.

Mayer: Most inaugural addresses are not terribly memorable, and it’s hard to say whether Trump’s will be. The only thing I can compare it to is his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and I don’t recall anything terribly memorable about that. One question people will ask is about how unifying it is. This is a president who, more than most before him, is disliked by the people. The question is whether he holds out some kind of olive branch to the people who aren’t taken with him, though it’s difficult for me to think about what he could say that’s unifying in nature and that wouldn’t annoy at least some of his supporters.

Are there any “dog-whistle” phrases that would signal something specific to foreign leaders or various sociopolitical groups that we should listen for? If so, what are they and what might they signal?

Portz: I don’t know of any specific phrases he might use, but I think his reach-out to foreign leaders will be along the lines of “we want to work with you,” though in the context of the primary message of “making America great.” He may very well reach out to different groups, as he did in his nomination acceptance speech, but I wouldn’t look for that to be a major theme.

What’s the impact of inauguration speeches in general? In other words, how much weight do they typically carry? To what extent do they set the stage for the next four years? And to what extent has that stage perhaps already been set?

Mayer: I don’t think it will shift the tone.

Portz: Inaugural addresses typically have a short-term impact, although famous phrases can come from them. That short-term impact may be accentuated in this case, given Trump’s style and approach, but I think, to a significant degree, the stage has been set.

CNN reported this week that Trump wrote his own inaugural address. Is this common? Do you expect the tone or content of the speech will be substantially different from a professional speechwriter’s?

Portz: I don’t think that’s very common. If no professional speechwriters are involved, I would expect his speech to be more direct with fewer phrases that fall into that memorable category.

How do you expect Trump’s inauguration to compare with Barack Obama’s? With George W. Bush’s?

Portz: It appears to be on a smaller scale than his predecessors. In a comparison of speeches, my one prediction about Trump’s speech that might be different from earlier ones is a significant focus on himself. His nomination acceptance speech took that tone and it seems to be his general approach. I look for quite a bit of “him” to be in the speech.

Outside of the speech, what should we be watching for?

Mayer: I expect there will be a lot more protesters than there have been before, so one question will be how disruptive they are. If they are very disruptive, I think it will warp to their disadvantage rather than Trump’s. The public is never really wild about disruptive protests; peaceful gatherings are one thing, but tying up traffic is quite another. Plus, I think there’s at least a perception that the Democrats need to recognize that he did win and he will be the president for the next four years.

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