As a Briton born after 1953, I have yet to witness a royal coronation at Westminster Abbey. However, every four years our American cousins treat us to a spectacular, regal, and full-blown monarchical affair as the president of the United States takes his inauguration oath. With parades, concerts, and lavish luncheons, the inauguration has become an event fit for a king, not the president of a republic.
But ironically, the celebrity-cum-president Donald Trump is likely to have an inauguration with a very modest celebrity influence. America’s famous names aren’t fans of Trump, with a multitude of reality-TV stars, Hollywood favorites, and Broadway actors expressing their dislike for the president-elect and his administration. Several music artists have rejected offers to perform at the event. In November, a spokesman for Elton John said that he would not perform. The tenor Andrea Bocelli also announced that he would not be involved. Zara Larsson said “I would never do it.” John Legend explained his choice not to perform by arguing that “creative people tend to reject bigotry and hate.”
At the time of writing, the only solo artist confirmed to be performing at the event is 16-year-old “America’s Got Talent” singer Jackie Evancho. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Radio City’s Rockettes are also listed as performing.
Let’s hope it stays that way, because Trump is accidentally doing something conservative. As conservatives, we prefer the executive to govern in a restrained and grounded manner, not rule under the impression of regality. In order to maintain this kind of governance, reducing the grandeur and cost of state events is necessary. Inaugural traditions should remain limited so that we, and the new president, can focus on the crucial value they represent: the smooth continuation of leadership of a republic. Rampant celebration of a new leader threatens to dilute this value and allow new presidents to consider themselves as something more than servants of the people.
As conservatives, we prefer the executive to govern in a restrained and grounded manner, not rule under the impression of regality.
Almost all aspects of the Inauguration Day events have undergone a transition over the decades from limited, sensible processes to celebrations of pomp and extravagance. The first inaugural parade to take place in Washington was Thomas Jefferson’s in 1801. Jefferson walked from his boardinghouse to the Capitol, joined by a company of riflemen from Alexandria, Va., and “fellow citizens.” In 1953, the year of Eisenhower’s inauguration, the parade had ballooned to an absurd affair involving 73 bands, 59 floats, elephants, horses, and civilian and military vehicles.
Inauguration Day is far from the only presidential event that has become financially excessive and eulogizing. Trips abroad for the president and those associated with his office are eye-wateringly expensive. Ferried around like a king, George W. Bush during his time as president billed the taxpayer $2 billion for transportation. Michelle Obama’s two-day trip to Ireland in 2013 cost close to $8 million.
Even the State of the Union speech has been transformed into a narcissistic address. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson delivered the State of the Union via a written report, and this remained the standard practice until Woodrow Wilson switched to reading his address in person. Nowadays it resembles a king’s speech, full of standing ovations and relentless clapping. I am unconvinced that Donald Trump will return it to its reserved, Jeffersonian form.
With every inauguration oath that is taken, presidents are treated more like royalty and less like the servants of the people that the founding fathers envisaged. But not all the early patriots agreed on this point. John Adams, America’s first vice president, argued that George Washington should have been given titles like “His High Mightiness” and “His Mighty Benign Highness.” I am immensely grateful to Adams’s unpretentious peers for preventing a scenario where Donald Trump would be known as “His Majesty the President.” Most Americans would rightly be appalled by such a title, yet still they support the celebritization of the presidency.
Celebrities are ephemeral symbols of fame and fortune. The values of the presidency could not be more dissimilar. Let’s hope that Trump’s celebrity-free inauguration is the start of a new, conservative trend for state events.
— Charlie Peters is a writer and student from Surrey, England. He studies philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.