All his life he had dreamed of entering Washington as the new president of the United States, and when he finally did, his first stop was not the Blair mansion, where the chosen ones spend the night before their inauguration. Joe Biden entered the capital yesterday at the time when his country was crossing the heavy mark of 400,000 deaths from Covid-19, a mourning that he could not ignore.
He went straight to the National Mall for a solemn tribute to the victims of a pandemic that has doubled its death toll in just three months, because just in October President Donald Trump euphorically promised to extend to everyone the same elite treatment that allowed him to leave the hospital in three days. In front of the pond flanked by 400 pillars of light, nurse Lorie Marie Key sang the Amazing Grace with which in April she spontaneously comforted her colleagues at the Detroit hospital where she worked, captured in a video that went viral. It was about shedding light on darkness. “Hallelujah,” intoned gospel singer Yolanda Adams.
Biden, 78, had glassy eyes. Shortly before, he had said goodbye to Delaware, the state in which he has buried his first wife, the girl who died with her and the son he lost from cancer five years ago. “I will always have Delaware engraved in my heart,” he promised. For 36 years, she made the daily train ride to Washington to sleep with her two children, survivors of the traffic accident in which they lost their mother and sister.
Yesterday he could not repeat that 90-minute trip due to the turbulence that is experienced in the country after the assault on the Capitol, but he descended on the fortified city by plane and advanced to the National Mall through deserted avenues, guarded by soldiers dressed for tasks. Concrete barricades and impregnable fences broke through to allow him to reach the heart of Washington. Only a few dared to go out into the streets to greet him when they saw him pass. “We are not together physically, but we are together in spirit,” said Kamala Harris, the woman who accompanies him on this new journey as proof of his commitment to diversity.
Overwhelmed by the scene, the president-elect stood solemnly in front of the lighted pond, while Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, invoked the souls of the fallen. The cathedral bells rang, the main buildings of the United States were illuminated, from the Empire State to the Space Needle in Seattle, the night opened and the light entered like a painful blade in so many homes marked by absence. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember,” he admitted glassy-eyed, “but it’s the only way to heal.”
For this reason, his presidency will begin marked by the memory of the assault on the Capitol, an event as traumatic for many Americans as 9/11. Biden will have to display all his humanity to unite such a divided country. It will start early today, with a mass in the cathedral to which the second Catholic president of the United States, after John F. Kennedy, has invited the leaders of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, who have agreed to change Trump’s farewell to that Act of faith. So they also have an alibi not to appear in the final photo of the disgraced president. The first in 152 years that he does not attend the investiture of his successor.
The new presidential couple spent the night with their family in the Blair Building, across the street from the White House, where the mogul was wearing out his last hours. During these four years his dreams of power and greatness have come true – “we did what we came to do,” he said in a last video that he has not been able to post on Twitter, where he remains banned. In a matter of hours, the staff has proposed to disinfect every corner of the mansion through which the Covid has run and from which Trump is leaving more alone than he arrived. Of course, like McCarthur, with a “I’m going, but I’ll be back.”