Joe Biden’s inauguration went without a violent incident. Nevertheless, there can be no question of a completely normal ceremony.
4th6 “is written on the license plate of the black Cadillac with armored doors and bulletproof windows. Three men stand on each side with their backs to the car. With their eyes they scan the asphalt, the roadside with the tightly closed rows of soldiers in uniform and the curve where a few dozen journalists are waiting.
Finally, they carefully open the two rear doors of the sedan. Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden get out. The last steps to the White House can be taken on foot. Their children and grandchildren, who have rolled up in the column, follow. Minutes later, the scene repeats itself with a second limousine in which Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff pull up in front of the White House. They are also accompanied by relatives. For them too, the bathroom fails in the crowd.
Washingtoners can only watch all of this on the screen, but they are not lacking in enthusiasm. The majority of them are Democrats. And the two new families at the helm of the United States bring everything with them that they have longed for in recent years. Not just their politics. But also their contemporary life plans. And their empathy. With Biden it is immediately noticeable that the first lady is not just standing by, but also has a say. With Harris, a blended family comes to Washington that includes both white and black relatives. And she is the first woman, the first black and the first Southeast Asian person in office. In addition, she brings the first “second gentleman” in US history to Washington.
The day Biden and Harris take office, Washington shines in the usual glamor of presidential inaugurations. As every four years, the city has polished and renovated its government buildings, parks and avenues in the center. But life is missing. The entire city center is cordoned off with fences and barriers. The airspace is closed, the bridges are closed. Police boats patrol the Potomac, Anacostia Rivers, and the Washington Channel. There are snipers on the roofs. And on the Mall, that three-kilometer-long meadow between Congress and the Lincoln Memorial, where the supporters of the new president usually gather, 200,000 flags are fluttering instead.
Evening dresses and t-shirts at Zoom balls
25,000 soldiers in combat uniforms are stationed in the backdrop of the city – more soldiers than the United States has deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Two weeks after the violent assault on the Capitol, in which the police surrendered the building to the intruders almost without a fight, soldiers are supposed to ensure the peaceful and democratic change from one president to the next on January 20. The failure in the Capitol is followed by a military show of force. But this time the enemies stay away. On the day Biden and Harris took office, the armed white nationalists, right-wing extremists and militiamen were not seen in Washington or in the state capitals.
25,000 soldiers are stationed in the city: more than the United States have deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined
In the predominantly democratic capital, many fear not only Trump’s supporters. They also distrust the soldiers and police officers, among whose ranks there are many rights-makers. The warning of an “insider job” is making the rounds. As well as the memory of the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was murdered by Islamists in uniform in a military parade in 1981. In the days leading up to the inauguration, the FBI and military leaders comb through the social media of soldiers who have long been in the capital. A few hours before the big mission, they withdraw twelve. Two are said to have had right-wing extremist contacts, ten others other “questionable” behavior.
Washington journalist Myra McPherson is reminded of the early 1960s. At a time of political murders and a heavy police presence. But on the evening of Biden’s inauguration, she is pleasantly surprised: “He said all the important things. I now feel hope again. “
She says so at a “zoom ball” with friends, including intellectuals and members of previous democratic governments. When they zoom in, the new president has already signed his first 17 decrees in the Oval Office. The Zoom Ball was organized as a replacement to console yourself that the balls across the city have also been canceled due to the pandemic. Instead of dancing, some of the participants sit in front of the screen in tuxedos and evening attire. Others come into the picture in T-shirts.
Balls usually round off the first day of a new president’s office. After the oath of office, after the speeches, the parades, the concerts, the visit to the Arlington Military Cemetery and the first decrees, he and the first lady attend several balls on the same evening. But there is no normalcy in Washington this time. The balls failed because of the virus. The public appearances have been canceled because of the threat of right-wing terror. And the outgoing president has left the city without ever congratulating his successor on the election and without taking part in his inauguration at the Capitol, as is usual. On the morning of January 20, Trump held a separate ceremony with 21 gun salutes and another eulogy in front of a tiny crowd of loyal followers at a military airport on the outskirts.
“Can we hope?” Asks one participant
Biden avoids mentioning Trump’s name when addressing the Capitol. Nor does he mention any concrete political projects. Instead, he describes the crises that Trump knew nothing about and did not want to do anything about: the pandemic, the survival of the planet and white supremacy. The evening before, he held a ceremony for the more than 400,000 deaths of the pandemic. “Memory is part of mourning,” said Biden.
“Can we hope?” Asks a participant in the Zoom Ball. “FoxNews has been rushing all day,” replies one skeptic. Another complains that Republicans falsely claim that Biden is sick. But a former top official from the Obama administration argues that Biden made a fresh start on his first day: “We’re back in Paris. We’re back to the World Health Organization. And the financing of the construction of the wall is over. “
A psychotherapist in the group adds that with Trump’s departure, hatred has also disappeared. And a young woman, the daughter of a white mother and a black father, warns against paying attention to right-wing propaganda. “Who cares about FoxNews”, says the musician Sara Ghebremichael, “we won a victory. And we have elected a president who is sensitive to what the public is asking. We have to use that. “
The Zoom attendees wonder how seriously they must take the supporters of the conspiracy theory Qanon in the future. “They wanted to believe that Trump could stay in the White House even though he lost the election,” says one who has done anthropological studies of conspiracies. Another participant believed that the greatest threat to democracy is evangelical Christians. “We have 100 million of them,” says Larry Wilkerson, “40 to 50 percent of them are supporters of Trump. They are our American Taliban. “
Against deportations and an oil pipeline
Meanwhile, the White House is sending out a volley of press releases from the new president. They describe the decrees with which Biden begins his term in office. He wants to introduce a national mask requirement and standardize the fight against the virus. He wants to change immigration policy, want to interrupt deportations, pave the way for the legalization of paperless people and lift the entry ban from Muslim countries. And he wants to withdraw the building permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ban gas and oil production in national parks and cancel other oil projects.
The decrees are not a guarantee of success. But they are the sure opportunity for a president with only a wafer-thin majority in Congress to put his plans into practice. As the Zoom Ball attendees debate whether these pledges are more solid than Barack Obama’s first day of office in January 2009 to close the Guantanamo detention center, a new beginning fireworks display begins over the Washington Channel. A look at the night sky over the capital lets you forget for a moment Trump’s legacies on the ground – the fences, roadblocks and the unchecked expansion of the pandemic – and the blockades that threaten the 46th President from Congress.