So big ceremony, big speech (need to work together, challenges ahead, more to be done, blah, blah, blah), big parade, various big inaugural balls, then what?
"I think things are abruptly going back to things we have seen," said Drexel poli-sci prof and presidential-elections expert William Rosenberg.
I think he's dead right.
And Obama, said Rosenberg, is "going to have to choose his battles carefully."
Guns? Spending cuts? Entitlement reform? Jobs? Immigration? Climate?
What do you think gets done?
It's a second term shortened by the fact that 2014 congressional races begin right now; much of his first-team Cabinet is gone or going, and there's little evidence Washington's ready to work.
About the only thing in Obama's favor are low expectations.
A new Harris Poll says just 47 percent of Americans think things will be better in a second term.
A new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll says 57 percent of Americans think the country's on the wrong track.
Change in Washington? Sure.
Four years ago, Obama banned corporate and union donations to his inaugural committee and capped private donations at $50,000. This year, all donations are welcome and there is no cap.
I suppose one could argue that House Republicans, who just backed away from a threatened government default, offer signs that gridlock's loosening.
I'd argue a CBS News/ New York Times poll released over the weekend showing Congress' approval rating at 12 percent gives Congress too much credit.
Who are the 12 percenters? Members of Congress?
Here's some ugly truth.
We're a nation ruled by a political class whose pay, benefits and perks are greater than those of the vast majority of Americans.
This class lives largely isolated from the financial problems of average citizens, and operates under a prime directive of self-preservation.
Such self-preservation is maintained through unreformed campaign-finance laws, a Supreme Court that allows unfettered corporate and union money into elections, and anti-democracy gerrymandering.
As a result, 90 percent of incumbent House members and 91 percent of incumbent senators who sought re-election in 2012 are back in Congress.
Washington, because of government employees, contractors, consultants and lobbyists, enjoys a similarly isolated status.
Its regional economy grew 14 percent in the past five years, according to Forbes, while the rest of America grew 3 percent.
Its personal income trails only New York, L.A. and Chicago (America's three largest cities; D.C. is 24th), and it's the only one of the four to show income growth since 2008, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.
Yet we're asked to believe promised change is coming.
American politics produces division, waste and little else.
Name an ongoing problem solved or even eased in the past 20 years, other than getting out of wars we shouldn't have gotten into.
American culture produces ill-informed, celebrity-obsessed citizens.
Why else fixate on Lance Armstrong? Or Manti Te'o?
And American media produce predictable platforms for political division and celebrity obsession to play out over and over again.
There are good people in politics and good ideas to reform the system.
But absent the civic engagement of a nation more interested in "American Idol" than American ideals, good people and reforms remain merely background noise.
Even as parades, speeches and balls assume our center stage.