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Trump's Low-Key Inauguration Will Be the Most Expensive in History

Jan 18, 2017

In 1993, the inauguration festivities welcoming Bill Clinton as president could have doubled as a Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame celebration, with performances by Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Aretha Franklin. At other inaugurations over the years, the performers have included a mix of hot pop stars and music legends, with appearances by Ricky Martin, 98 Degrees, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra.

It's been widely reported that the 2017 inauguration of Donald J. Trump will stand out from the pack because of the absence of A-list artists, with multiple high-profile musicians turning down the opportunity to perform. But that's not the only way Trump's inauguration will be different: The festivities will also, curiously, cost more than previous ceremonies—despite a relatively short parade, far fewer celebrities, and fewer gala balls.

In fact, artists are generally not paid for performing at inaugurations. So it's not like the bill for the Trump celebration will be high because Toby Keith and 3 Doors Down—two high-profile acts who've agreed to play—are receiving huge paychecks. What's more, Trump is only expected to attend three "low-key" gala balls, according to Reuters, compared with an average of 10 during a more typical inauguration year.

Why, then, is the Trump inauguration expected to cost so much? The New York Times, which estimated that the inauguration is likely to run over $200 million, finds that by far the event's biggest expense is security. Well over $100 million could be spent just on that line item, with some 28,000 local, state, and federal personnel on hand to keep everyone safe.

The costs of inaugurations are covered by a mix of private and public money. Trump's inaugural committee has raised a $90 million from corporations and individuals, which is roughly double the previous high for inauguration donations. The Wall Street Journal reported that individuals writing $1 million checks for the inauguration are getting "plenty of perks" in terms of access to the administration, including "dinner with [Vice President Mike] Pence, a lunch with select cabinet employees, and tickets to one of about 1,500 seats at a candlelight dinner" with an appearance by President Trump and his wife, Melania.

Beyond that, taxpayer dollars will be used to cover the rest of Trump's inauguration costs—some $100 million or so.

How does that compare to recent inaugurations? Conservatives complained in 2009 that Obama's inauguration events were much more expensive than those of George W. Bush, but in fact the total costs were comparable. For that matter, even though Trump's inauguration will be the most expensive in history, the costs won't be absurd compared to previous price tags. Obama's 2009 inauguration was estimated to cost $170 million, or $190 million today after factoring in inflation, and the federal government paid over $100 million just for security during the 2005 and 2009 inaugurations.

It's just too bad that Trump, who boasts of being a star negotiator, couldn't have worked out a better deal for taxpayers—especially because the 2017 inauguration will feature so much less action and A-list star power.

Then again, a big reason why inauguration weekend crowds will be so large, and why security costs will be so high as a result, is that Washington, D.C., is expected to be flooded with Trump protestors. Speaking of which, that's another significant way the Trump inauguration will stand out from previous celebrations.

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