It took a bloody eternity for Jan. 20 to finally arrive. Normally the space between Election Day and the inauguration is a peaceful time filled with holiday celebrations. Exiting presidents routinely use this moment before their term in office ends to take a victory lap, and trumpet the outgoing administration’s accomplishments.
This was not the case with Donald Trump. This space in time was a tense siege of vitriol over fictional election fraud, half-baked conspiracy theories, and frivolous court challenges aimed at eroding American democracy.
The man unleashed a riot upon the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, which in the aftermath of its carnage, caused numerous states to fortify their capitols in case more angry Trump supporters decided to use violence as a tool for protest.
Surrounding Trump’s enormous pity party was an immense amount of death. Thousands of Americans died day after day from Covid-19, but Trump abandoned the controls to the country as he became fixated on stealing back his re-election.
After the Capitol riot Trump’s influence dwindled significantly. It seemed to break a spell held over many of his previous supporters. All the pettiness and lies showed through. The time had come for this fraud of a leader to exit stage left.
That moment arrived on Jan. 20. It was a beautiful crisp wintry Wednesday, filled with blue skies in our nation’s capital. On the same steps that two weeks prior saw bloodshed, stood Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Sadly they had to be joined by 25,000 armed members of the National Guard, deployed to secure the inauguration, but no hijinks ensued as Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
As much as this was a relief, I was struck by how there was no peaceful transfer of power. American democracy held, but it took the courts, some brave Republican elected officials in Georgia and thousands of law enforcement officers at the Capitol, to collectively stand their ground against immense pressure to overthrow a free and fair election.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), now the Senate Minority Leader, returned to the U.S. Senate the day before Biden’s inauguration, for the first time since the riot and made use of the moment to make his strongest statement to date about the incursion.
“This mob was fed lies,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”
Meanwhile, The Donald skulked away from Washington in the morning hours before Biden was sworn in. Trump is the first president to boycott his successor’s swearing-in ceremony in 152 years. That takes us back to when Andrew Johnson skipped the ceremony for incoming President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869.
Traditionally, the outgoing president welcomes his successor to the White House on the morning of the inauguration, but Trump was too small a person to allow such a polite gesture to penetrate his jilted ego over losing to Biden.
The ceremony itself was momentous. Kamala Harris was celebrated for being the first woman to hold the office of vice president.
“Here we stand looking out on the great Mall, where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand where 108 years ago, at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote. Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris,” Biden said.
Due to the dire state of the Covid-19 pandemic it wasn’t possible to strike the normal celebratory tone inaugurations routinely inspire.
There were no crowds. Attendance was strictly limited. Usually members of Congress have 200,000 tickets they hand out to constituents, but this time only a single guest was allowed to attend with members.
There was no parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Nor were there any inaugural balls for the first time since 1949. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which for years has hosted inaugural balls, was unavailable for use. It had been transformed into an emergency field hospital in preparation for a surge in coronavirus cases.
America has quite a journey confronting it before the Covid-19 pandemic is contained, the economy gets rebuilt, and recognition of equality is bestowed upon all citizens under our flag, but with Joe Biden at the helm, truth and honor have returned to the Resolute desk, and the healing can begin.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” Biden said Wednesday as he urged Americans to come together. “We have to be different than this. America has to be better than this.”