Who would have thought it? The man who declared his presidential ambitions after arriving down a gilded escalator and whose private apartment has been derided as over-the-top dictator chic, is having a low-key inauguration.
Once Donald Trump, showman extraordinaire, has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States he will depart down Pennsylvania Avenue for a procession that will last 90 minutes at most. That makes it one of the shortest on record. Four hours is not unusual.
He plans to grace three inaugural balls. Bill Clinton, the ultimate schmoozer, managed to fit in 14. Even Barack Obama managed 10 and spread the festivities over five days. Trump has three days of events. The word used by organisers this time around is ‘workmanlike’.
The president-elect seems keen to give the impression that he is hitting the ground running. Advisers have been briefing that Trump plans to begin the business of ripping up dozens of his predecessors executive actions – – on day one.
Not all of this is intentional. Elton John, Celine Dion, Kanye West and Charlotte Church were among the celebrities who gave the president-elect the brush off, declining approaches to perform. It is difficult to do lavish when you are relying on an America’s Got Talent runner-up and Three Doors Down (described in some parts as a budget Nickelback). Only 800,000 people are expected, down from an estimated 1.9m who came to Washington for Obama’s inauguration.
It’s not for lack of cash. Organisers say they have raised more than $100m for the inauguration – doubling the previous record. But if the boycotters have forced Trump’s hand away from the ostentatious, then he has responded cleverly.
His populist campaign mocked the mores of America’s political elite. He promised to drain the swamp of Washington, with its consultants and hacks. And while his opponent’s campaign was all about the candidate, he built his platform on the people.
It was not always an easy message to sell from a private jet or the heights of Trump Tower. Yet it resonated in a way that his opponent’s never did. One of the abiding memories of Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign will be the jubilant rally in Philadelphia on election eve. Even Bruce Springsteen’s performance wasn’t enough to counter the overall sense that the American public was being taken for granted even before polling day had dawned.
Trump knows that 20 January is not the end of something, but the start. (Perhaps even more so for a president-elect who has struggled to articulate a clear set of policies thus far.) So sending a clear message that he has come to Washington to get on with a job is a sensible move. Whatever you think of Trump and his politics, he is determined to trim down the celebrations, and set himself apart from the norms of Washington and its political class. Many will welcome this.