Nothing has been typical about the 2016 election. But as we enter into a new year and a new presidency rife with unconventional players and moves, there is at least some semblance of normalcy. Barack Obama will be at Donald Trump's inauguration, carrying on a tradition of outgoing presidents attending the inauguration of the incoming one, even if everything else about the election has absolutely broken with the norm.
First, it's worth noting that there have been instances in which the outgoing president bailed on the inauguration of the new one — just not in the past century. The ultimate frenemies, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were one such instance. Adams didn't attend Jefferson's inauguration, both seemingly because he was bitter about his loss to Jefferson and grieving the loss of his son. His presidential offspring, John Quincy Adams, continued the tradition. Apparently, because he was angry that he did not receive a courtesy call from Andrew Jackson, Adams did not attend Jackson's inauguration. Finally, bad blood between Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson caused Johnson to stay home from Grant's inauguration.
So outgoing presidents have a pretty good track record of showing public civility for the swearing in of their successors. And based on the way Obama has stressed the importance of a smooth transition, snubbing Trump's inauguration would be an aberration. Even though Obama has taken a number of steps in his final days of office to secure his legacy and make some of Trump's proposal harder to execute, there's no evidence he'd skip the inauguration.
Immediately after the election, Obama assured the public that it would be a "peaceful transition of power."
“Now, it is no secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences,” Obama told reporters and White House staffers after Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech. “But, remember, eight years ago President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush's team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running. And one thing you realize quickly in this job is that the presidency and the vice presidency is bigger than any of us.”
In standing by those words, Obama is slated to be in attendance when Trump is officially sworn in as our next president on Jan. 20. And he won't be the only former president in attendance: after brief speculation that they would be no-shows, both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will be in attendance with their wives, which means that Clinton, the Trump's not-so-distant enemy, will be at the inauguration. Talk about awkward.