Make Inaugurals Dignified Again

At just after noon on Friday, Jan. 20, Donald Trump will be sworn in as 45th president of the United States. He will stand on the west steps of the Capitol with Chief Justice John Roberts, who will hold a Bible, possibly two. (If the Bible is open it will likely be turned to a verse chosen by the new president. What might be inferred from its selection?) By tradition the incoming president will place his left hand on the Bible, raise his right, and repeat the oath as set forth in the eighth clause of Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution: “I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear . . .”

At that moment roughly half the country will feel deep pleasure and gratitude. Among the other half will likely commence a new—and perhaps last, for a while—wave of grief and horror.

Network executives and producers are wrestling with exactly how to cover the inauguration, how to find the right tone and approach in a country so divided. They are aware of their own antipathy and are not ashamed of it because they see it as connected to love of country: They don’t want to celebrate a man they find deplorable and a victory they believe destructive.

For what it’s worth my advice has been: Look, just tell the story. Put focus on the people who’ve come to the inaugural ask how they feel, what they hope for, what this means to them. It’s history—gather it, hear it, show it. Talk to the people at the balls.

What was true at the Cleveland convention will likely be true here: Trump supporters will not, most of them, be the eminently spoofable wealthy Republicans of the past. They’re not as fancy, they’re people with normal lives and resources. Cover the speech—point out what’s striking; try to locate, fairly, message and meaning. Cover the parade, capture the day. Reporters and correspondents don’t have to show personal happiness—that’s not their job. But they do have to show happiness when it’s present in others. The next day, in the so-called million-woman march, they’ll show the continuing fraught nature of our politics, and the views of that side.
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