Inauguration Day is here at last. Four years ago today, Barack and Michelle Obama hosted Donald and Melania Trump at the White House. The outgoing president, following a modern tradition, left an encouraging note for his successor in the Oval Office. Mrs. Trump, following her own instincts, and not first lady custom, handed her predecessor a Tiffany's box containing, as Mrs. Obama would later reveal, a "lovely" picture frame. At the time, Michelle seemed to not know what to do with it. Microphones picked up her husband saying, "I'll take care of the protocol here."
What made the awkward scene touching is that, despite all the pomp and circumstance, it was a normal little social faux pas. It reminded viewers, regardless of who they voted for in 2016, that the participants in America's celebrated transfer of political power are only human. And on that day, one of them -- an immigrant to this country -- was trying to be gracious.
Nothing like that will happen today. It turns out that Melania Trump did not start a new tradition. She is not preparing to greet Jill Biden at the White House this morning, let alone accept a gift from her. Donald Trump will not ride in a limousine with Joe Biden to the Capitol, a solemn ritual that even Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to pull off. Their transition was fraught, too, and although the two men only managed small talk, they sat in the back seat together on their way to the swearing-in ceremonies. More than that, actually: It was a chilly day, like today, so Hoover and FDR shared a blanket for warmth.
In contrast, as I write these words the Trumps are traveling via Marine helicopter over a barricaded capital city that looks like a fortress en route to Joint Base Andrews where Air Force One awaits. That iconic presidential carriage turns into a pumpkin at noon when Joe Biden takes the oath of office. By then, Trump and his wife plan to be ensconced at Mar-a-Lago. If the schedule holds, crews at Palm Beach International Airport will be refueling the big jet as Joe Biden becomes the 46th U.S. president. I imagine Biden is okay with that. Like FDR, he prefers riding in trains anyway.
Joe and Jill Biden will engage with a Republican ex-president today, however. The 78-year-old incoming commander-in-chief, who ends his political speeches by saying, "God Bless our troops," will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. He and the first lady are to be joined by George W. and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.