In just a few days, Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. Like every president-elect who's appointed to the White House, he will attend an official inauguration ceremony and recite the Oath of Office. But what is the president's Oath of Office, exactly?
Way back when the U.S. Constitution was first drafted, the nation's founders wrote a clause in the 20th Amendment requiring future president-elects to swear allegiance to the United States and pledge to stand up for its values no matter what. Recitation of the oath lasts only a few seconds, but its symbolic meaning carries on for president's entire term.
The idea of requiring an Oath of Office dates back to the birth of the United States. President George Washington recited the oath for the first time on April, 30, 1789, even before the Supreme Court was created (so you know it's an old tradition). But the president's Oath of Office is much more than just a formality. It's an essential part of the inauguration.
Here is the president's Oath of Office, as outlined in Article II of the 20th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
It's hard to believe that, on Jan. 20, Trump will be reciting these very words at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. After last year's election and after everything that's happened in recent months, a part of me still wants to believe that this is some sort of alternate reality in which we're all just being punk'd. I have a feeling, though, that that's going to change the moment Trump repeats the Oath of Office out loud in front of America.
Here's what you need to know about the president's Oath of Office:
It's A Promise To The Nation
At the core of the president's Oath of Office is a promise to "preserve, protect, and defend" our national constitution, which is the "supreme law of the land" and sets a precedent for how the country will operate. Different articles in the U.S. Constitution have been interpreted in different ways a number of times, including as part of landmark court cases that set new precedents for the future.
Even before he's taken the Oath of Office, Trump already has a precarious relationship with the U.S. Constitution. He has repeatedly made suggestions that would be in direct violation of the Constitution, including jailing people who burn the American flag and "opening up our libel laws" to limit the media's role as a government watchdog. By reciting the Oath of Office on the Day of Inauguration, Trump will be making a promise to the United States that he's essentially already broken.
It's Different From Other Oaths Of Office
It's worth noting that the president's oath is different from the oath that other government officials are required to recite when they are elected into office. For example, right before Trump's takes the stand, vice president-elect Mike Pence will recite a separate oath that's slightly longer and more specific, though the promise is essentially the same:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Perhaps the reason the president's Oath of Office is shorter and simpler is that the president's responsibilities are more all-encompassing in the promise to "preserve, protect and defend" the U.S. Constitution.
Once the vice president is sworn in, it's the president-elect's turn. Interestingly, "So help me God" is not a part of the original president's Oath of Office. Washington began the informal tradition of adding those words to the end of the oath. Over the decades, most U.S. presidents have followed suit, including President Barack Obama. In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt replaced "So help me God" with "And thus I swear" instead.
It Allows the Torch To Be Passed From One President To The Next
Finally, the Oath of Office is a verbal acceptance of the purpose behind every inauguration ceremony: To release the current president, who has served for the last four or eight years, and to formally receive the next President of the United States, whoever that may be. It's all part of the process by which the president officially and peacefully grants his powers as president to the newly elected Commander-in-Chief.
Aside from the fact that I'm somewhat terrified of living under a Trump presidency, I'm also just incredibly sad about the fact that Jan. 20 is the day we finally have to say farewell to Obama. While he's by no means the perfect leader, Obama has definitely lived up to the Oath of Office. During his presidency, Obama signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009), expanded children's health care coverage, and so much more — all positive changes to the country that support the constitutional rights of all Americans. Needless to say, Trump has big shoes to fill. Let's hope he's up to the task.