President Herbert Hoover, back seat left, and Franklin Roosevelt before Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933. Associated Press
The U.S. is dealing with a cascade of crises during the wait between a presidential election and inauguration.
In the four months between Franklin Roosevelt’s election and his 1933 inauguration, much of the world descended into chaos.
Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, and the Reichstag — the Parliament building — burned. Japan quit the League of Nations. In the U.S., hundreds of banks shut down. Lynchings surged in the South.
“The country, numb and nearly broken, anxiously awaited deliverance,”
as David Kennedy wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the era.
Today, the length of time between a presidential election and inauguration is about six weeks shorter than it was in 1933, and neither the U.S. nor the world is in as dire a situation as it was then. But the current situation is still pretty dire.
The worst pandemic in a century is becoming more severe, with a contagious new coronavirus variant spreading and thousands of Americans dying every day. The mass vaccination program is behind schedule. Almost 10 million fewer Americans have jobs than did a year ago. The U.S. president, with the backing of dozens of members of Congress, has tried to overturn an election result and remain in power. Hundreds of his supporters overwhelmed police officers and stormed the Capitol, one of the few times in history that an U.S. government building has been violently attacked.
All the while, the country lacks a president who has both the power and willingness to reduce the death, illness and mayhem.
Instead, President-elect Joe Biden is left to rue that President Trump is denying the new government access to important national security information — and to plead with Trump to renounce the violence. Trump, for his part, appears disengaged from the worsening coronavirus crisis.
Most other longtime democracies have much shorter lags between an election and the transfer of power. In Britain, a new government usually takes office the next day. In Canada, France, India and Japan, it happens within a few weeks.
By The New York Times
The authors of the U.S. Constitution created the delay to give a new government time to travel to the nation’s capital during winter, an issue that obviously no longer applies. And the country has already shortened the time period once, through the 20th Amendment. It was ratified in early 1933, during the chaotic months when Roosevelt was waiting to take office, but not soon enough to shorten his transition.
Many legal scholars say there is little justification for today’s two-and-a-half-month wait. Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas has called it the Constitution’s “most mischievous” feature.
“There is something profoundly troubling, in allowing repudiated presidents to continue to exercise the prerogatives of what is usually called ‘the most powerful political office in the world.’”