A few days before Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, I got clipped from behind while playing recreational league soccer. I was sidelined with a sprained ankle, but the injury did not stop me from flying to Washington two days later. There was a big story to cover.
Hobbling on crutches, I made my way to the pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial. I was trying to reach the press area, but ushers kept taking pity on me and steering me toward the front of the crowd instead. I ended up sitting in the second row with folks in wheel chairs -- something about which I should have been embarrassed, but the view was just too good.
The concert featured a spectacular series of stellar performers, including Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. At the end of the show, with the sun setting in the west, the new president and vice-president descended the marble steps of the memorial like two Roman demigods. It was a superbly orchestrated event.
At Donald Trump's inauguration, beyond the man himself, the list of celebrity performers was thin; certainly no one on par with Michael Jackson at the pinnacle of his career.
Not surprisingly, the best known artists who agreed to take part in Mr. Trump's party are conservative-leaning country music singers Toby Keith ("Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue") and Lee Greenwood ("God Bless the USA"). Also on the bill were The Frontmen of Country. Add in The Piano Guys, DJ Ravidrums, 3 Doors Down and a 16-year-old finalist from "America's Got Talent," Jackie Evancho, and that was about it.
Politically active rockers Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi were not there. Both campaigned for Hillary Clinton. A previously booked Springsteen cover band, the B Street Band, decided to cancel their longstanding gig with New Jersey's inauguration event out of respect for The Boss.
Elton John declined an invitation. That is no surprise, given that he is on record saying Mr. Trump's ascendance makes him "fear for the world." Several other invited artists also made it quite clear why they did not want to come. Moby passed on an invitation, although he said he might show up if Mr. Trump released his tax returns as part of the deal. Rebecca Ferguson said she would sing only if allowed to perform the anti-lynching protest number, "Strange Fruit." Welsh songstress Charlotte Church refused the offer to perform saying Mr. Trump is "a tyrant."
Quite a few singers claimed to have scheduling conflicts that made it impossible for them to accept offers to perform, including Garth Brooks, KISS and Paul Anka. Maybe they really are that busy. Or maybe they were looking for a way to finesse the issue and avoid getting in trouble with their fans with an unambiguous yes or no.
Celine Dion simply said she was not interested after Mr. Trump's fellow casino owner, Steve Wynn, reportedly tried to get her to sing for the controversial new president.
Even a few marching bands pulled out of the post-inauguration parade.
Just as there are lots of Republicans among bankers and hedge fund managers, a big proportion of free-thinking artistic types are liberals. Still, Republican presidents have never had much trouble finding talent to entertain at their inaugural events. Mr. Trump is simply different from anyone who came before him, Republican, Democrat, Whig or Federalist. He was an abnormal candidate who offended and frightened wide swaths of the electorate with his arrogance, boorishness, serial mendacity and authoritarian tendencies. Given that he is taking those same attitudes with him into the White House, his presidency seems destined to be abnormal as well.
It is no surprise that so many performing artists want no part of the attempt to normalize Mr. Trump.