One of the great mysteries of History is precisely which Elvis movie is the last of the good ones and the first of the bad ones. Similarly, though obviously of lesser importance, is the identity of the final leader of the Roman Republic in practical terms and the commencer of the Roman Empire as reality.
Concerning our own time, posterity will no doubt debate whether Donald Trump was the dying gasp of America as a propositional nation or the initial breath of America as a global oligarchy.
Either way it should speak volumes this Inauguration Day is ringed in "unscalable fencing" topped with razor wire (a seeming contradiction in terms) while its "man of the People" requires 25,000 weaponized troops (more than currently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined) to protect his person.
Since the likes of the traditional Inauguration Day in the national Capitol are likely never to be witnessed again, take this opportunity from one who has been there to relate some truth about the experience.
One, the speeches are uniformly atrocious. Writing is good because it is honest, and it is the honesty which can sometimes make it eternal. When the object of writing is immortality itself it fundamentally misunderstands its own purpose, inevitably making the words sound cheap and unauthentic.
Given all politicians (and nearly all contemporary humans) want to be viewed as great rather than engage in the interminable toil of achieving greatness almost everything written today is insufferable.
Two, the "poetry" is even worse than the speeches (if possible). Maya Angelou acquitted herself well, though part of the reason we remember is the others were unutterably poor. In recent years the portion has become so reliant on making social statements the aspect of Art has been all but forgotten.
Incidentally, when John F. Kennedy was coming in he wanted T.S. Eliot but was turned down flat. Jack had to settle for Robert Frost instead, not bad as far as second choice for first poet at the ceremony.
Three, the weather is not typically an issue with temperatures averaging in most years from twenty to forty degrees. While that is not exactly ideal for most spectators it is far from unbearable
Simply wear moderately climate appropriate clothing and there will be no discomfort.
Four, while it is not technically true Washington is built on a swap, the city is edged by waterways and in winter there is a definite "marshy" quality to the atmosphere. During the first month of the year this can be pronounced and even "warm" Inauguration Days somehow seem wet there.
The point being, while you should look dignified you should not wear your best shoes. Try as they might to cover the ground the sidewalks, and obviously the lawn on the Mall, can be quite muddy. So dress warm, dress well and put rubber protectors on your feet.
Five, everyone you meet will be cheerful so you should try to reciprocate. Granted, there are always exceptions (and in the case of the last Inaugural quite vocal ones). Be that as it may, the vast majority of those who come are beside you because they want to be there and because they love America.
Even during those administrations I was not particularly keen to have ushered in to office it was always pleasing to be in the company of so many other jovial and generally positive citizens.
Six, interestingly enough the scene is not nearly as crowded as it appears on the small screen. When looking at the event from a distance one would think even on the Mall citizens were huddled together.
This is an optical illusion and in most cases there is plenty of space for everyone.
Seven, staying overnight can be quite a challenge even for those with means. Hotels such as the Willard are not opposed to raising their rates three to four times what they would ordinarily charge. Location is important and after a very long day you will want to rest, but there are limits.
My advice for those with stamina is to put up in Baltimore which is a brief train ride from the city. It takes less than an hour on the line and frankly it is refreshing afterward to watch the scenery.
Eight, until recent years the policing presence has been restrained. While those of a certain age never quite become accustomed to encountering full body armor and automatic machine guns on officers in the Capitol it must be admitted the sentries conducted themselves as guests would expect of hosts.
Lamentably the above can likely not be claimed of the reduced extravaganza this year and the image of regiments of soldiers on the streets for a "peaceful transition of power" is nauseating.
Nine, the Presidential Balls (there are several, typically thrown by the largest states and charitable organizations) have notoriously tight entry requirements in years there is a popular leader. The Black Tie and Boots Ball for Bush was entertaining though the Neighborhood Ball for Obama was interesting.
The main thing to understand is often attendees are left to believe they will be dancing the night away with the President when in fact he usually makes an appearance for a few minutes or hour at most.
Ten, do not talk politics. There is a time and place for everything and that time was November and the place was the Balloting Booth. Be of good cheer and remember to smile for the cameras. Most periods I have been in Washington I was not with those who shared my political beliefs and Inauguration Day is similarly not the place to discuss such feelings.
Just recall everyone has an opinion on everything these days. If you engage in the act of listening politely it will make you the most engaging person in the building. After months (and years) of squabbling it feels good to take a rest for the evening.
In fact, until the past few days it was my intention to attempt to attend the swearing in of Joe Biden as next President of the United States. Whatever one may think of the man personally he will soon be leader of the country and as such we owe him some loyalty - or at least an opportunity to earn it.
Of course, voters should not discount the multiple instances of...irregularities...involved in the recent contest, but with enough time one realizes such things go back a way with no clear indication of how they will resolve themselves.
For example, John F. Kennedy engaged in similar shenanigans and turned out not to be a bad President. Conversely, George W. Bush practiced his "winning" campaign much the same way only to be revealed as disastrous. So by whatever manner he got there Biden ought to be given a moment to surprise us.
I certainly hope the new President defies all of my expectations of him - even if I feel we've all seen this film before.
Guy Somerset writes from somewhere in America