Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and 81 million other Americans had a lot to celebrate Wednesday. The realization of a dream that Biden has longed for for more than 30 years. Go down in history, in Harris’s case, as the first woman to reach the vice presidency. And all of them, the end of a four-year nightmare. But the gravity of the moment the country is going through, in the midst of a terrible pandemic and under the threat of far-right terrorism, stripped the celebration of the crowds that traditionally accompany it. In its place, a sea of flags covered the monumental esplanade that opens before the Capitol, where 10 minutes before noon, taking 600 seconds of presidency from his predecessor, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
In the fateful last year, the American political machine, particularly the Democratic one, has become a more than solvent television producer. After the dress rehearsal that was the party’s national convention in the summer, the inauguration ceremony became a powerful cathodic show to convey the message of who President Biden is since Wednesday. The show must go on, the maxim of the show business. And in the midst of the duel and the gravity of the moment, there was a show, sober and harmonious, in tune with the values that the Administration tries to transmit, but a show at the end of the day.
There was something apocalyptic about that empty Washington that woke up cold and sunny. The streets without traffic, with military checkpoints every couple of blocks. Metal fences, trucks crossed, concrete blocks blocking the way. Secret service members, rooftop snipers, and 25,000 soldiers, five times more than the country has deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Sprinkled throughout the city, among teams of journalists wandering from one place to another, a few anonymous citizens walked in search of the experience of a historical moment. “I understand that there is no great celebration, given the circumstances, but it is up to each individual how they personally want to experience this occasion. For me, of course, it is a moment of celebration. Although it is quite chilling to see the capital of the country in this state. When I saw Trump leave on television, I dedicated a comb to him and said goodbye, “said Talia Pfeffer, a 21-year-old student, who was waiting in line at a checkpoint that, if she managed to cross, would not allow her to see Lady Gaga as she was his dream, but he did get closer to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Video of the interpretation of the United States anthem by the singer Lady Gaga.
At one end of that avenue, on the steps of the Capitol, where the investiture ceremony would take place, the distinguished guests began to arrive. All except former President Jimmy Carter, who did not come on medical recommendation, and Donald Trump, who declined the invitation, breaking a centuries-old tradition. The cordiality between all the old White House tenants present made one wonder how Trump will fit into that select club.
The prolegomena of the inauguration highlighted one of the failures of the president who promised to “drain the swamp.” What happened this Wednesday was the return of old Washington. Veteran politicians, respect in the discrepancy. Not even the masks and limited physical contact could eclipse the cronyism between rivals, banished from public life these four years and that the protagonists, including the outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to miss.
Early in the morning, the Bidens left the Blair House, the guest residence next to the White House where they spent the night, to attend mass. On his way to becoming the second Catholic president in history, Biden left after 8:45 (Washington time), respecting the farewell of the same president who did not want to go to his oath, just as Trump had finished speaking at Andrews Base and was boarding for the last time in the Air Force One heading to Florida. Biden was going to hear mass and Trump was leaving to the rhythm of My way with Sinatra’s voice. The sacred and the profane. The contrast, underscored by the fact that Congressional leaders, Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Nancy Pelosi, joined Biden at Mass, was served from early hours. Trump was only accompanied by his family.
On the steps of the Capitol, Senator and Biden’s former primary rival Amy Klobuchar served as mistress of ceremonies. It barely took him 20 seconds to mention the dramatic assault on the building that had his back on the 6th. “We are seeing the way our democracy is lifted up,” he said.
Suddenly, little snowflakes began to float in the air. “Of all the things we could hope for today, snow was not one of them,” joked Roy Blunt, chairman of the Senate Committee in charge of festivities and the only Republican to speak, except for the star of the country Garth Brooks, who sang a moving Amazing grace dressed in jeans.
More spectacular was the styling of the protagonists of the other two musical moments. An emotional Lady Gaga, in a monumental red skirt and combed like the Statue of Liberty, sang the national anthem. And Jennifer Lopez, a Latin diva dressed in white suffragette, was ripped off by Woody Guthrie, the troubadour whose guitar “killed fascists.” He played a beautiful This land is your land, to which he added some verses in Spanish demanding “freedom and justice for all.”
But her superb speeches largely paled in the face of the overwhelming reading of the star of the ceremony, the 23-year-old African-American young poet Amanda Gorman, who articulated, in dynamic and powerful verses, the same message of unity, of closure of wounds and hope that President Biden wants to orbit the work that began this Wednesday. “Let us look up, not at what stands between us,” Gorman recited, “but at what stands before us.”
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