Professors who worked in presidential administrations reflect on inaugurations

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Lara Brown, the interim director of the Graduate School of Political Management, worked in multiple presidential administrations, including former President Bill Clinton's. She said she expects President-elect Donald Trump's Inauguration will have a "Broadway-esque" feel.

Three faculty members who have worked in past presidential administrations had front row seats to inaugurations of past presidents.

These professors held offices that range from providing the material that comes straight from the president’s mouth to behind the books writing policy. With their vast experience, these professors provide insight on past inaugurations and weigh in on what they expect this weekend.

Lee Huebner
Nixon administration speechwriter
Lee Huebner, a professor of media and public affairs, worked with President Richard Nixon on his presidential campaign in 1968 and later on the White House staff as a speechwriter.

Huebner attended both Nixon inaugurations and said that when Nixon was first elected, it was a “difficult time” because the country was divided after both Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations and over the Vietnam War.

After Nixon’s first inaugural address, demonstrators threw eggs at Nixon’s car to protest the Vietnam War during the parade from the Capitol to the White House, Huebner said.

“That almost overshadowed his speech” he said. “But it spoke to the sense of protest and division in the country.”

As the upcoming administration takes office, the public will likely have a similar attitude as when Nixon took office, Huebner said. People will be wondering what President-elect Donald Trump will do when he takes office and if his campaign promises will be fulfilled.

Huebner said the division between groups in the U.S. today is similar to divisions during Nixon’s administration, so he expects demonstrations will likely be a “big part of the news story,” with several protests and demonstrations already scheduled for inaugural weekend.

“I think there can be many different emotions in a diverse country,” he said. “For some people there will be a great sense of celebration and for others it will be a lot more uneasiness about how things are going to go.”

Lara Brown
U.S. Department of Education coordinator of corporate outreach for the Clinton administration
Lara Brown, the interim director of the Graduate School of Political Management, served in the Clinton administration for one year as the coordinator of corporate outreach for the U.S. Department of Education. Brown attended the 1997 inauguration of President Bill Clinton shortly before she began working for him and the 2001 inauguration of President George W. Bush.

“The atmosphere is always enthusiastic and jovial, especially for those who supported the president-elect in their election and in the campaign,” she said.

Brown added that although people always have the right to protest, an inauguration is a time to “revel” in the U.S.’s democracy and appreciate the country’s two-party system that provides a peaceful transition of power.

“I would be very surprised if there were a large number of ‘sore losers’ because at the end of the day, when you are someone who believes in American democracy you do have to commit to the process, and not the results,” she said.

Each inauguration has its own “local character” that reflects the president’s personality or hometown, Brown said. For former President George W. Bush, there was a black tie and cowboy boots ball because the president was from Texas. Clinton’s inauguration had a “jazzy feel” because he played the saxophone, she said.

“As we look forward to Trump, we’ll certainly have some of the New York, Broadway-esque character that will be a part of the day and a part of the celebration,” Brown said.

Sara Rosenbaum
Domestic Policy Council staff for the Clinton Administration
Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health policy, has worked in six presidential administrations, including the Clinton administration.

While Rosenbaum wasn’t involved in the Clinton administration until after the president’s first inauguration, she was able to attend President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Rosenbaum said the climate at the event was celebratory because crowds were excited by the historic election of the U.S.’s first black president. Because of the historic nature of the election, the event drew record crowds to the District.

“It was very celebratory, very jubilant and there were enormous crowds,” she said. “I think people really appreciated the historic nature of the inauguration.”

As for this year, Rosenbaum said she believes Trump supporters will consider his inauguration historic because he is the first president who has not previously held political office.

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