Ten years ago, the crowds attending Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s first inauguration were so large that a flood of ticket holders found themselves stranded throughout the ceremony in a tunnel on Capitol Hill, a snafu nicknamed the purple tunnel of hell.
This time around, with the exception of Capitol Hill Police and National Guard troops, there were no participants around that tunnel.
There were, in fact, relatively few people at all at Wednesday’s inaugural swearing-in ceremony (by the thousands), given the Covid-19 warrants and threats that followed the siege on Capitol Hill. Inside a vast security perimeter that surrounds the Capitol, Supreme Court and Library of Congress, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in in a ceremony that seemed designed to inspire a sense of relief above all else. .
Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris – Photo Gallery
That’s despite all the angst leading up to the moment: Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged people to stay away, and it’s no wonder: Bridges have been closed, National Mall has been closed and metro stations were closed. I managed to find one that was open, the East Market, about a mile from my checkpoint near Hart’s Senate office building, surrounded by barbed wire. All fears of unrest were quickly allayed by the presence of troops at the station itself, carrying their assault rifles and spaced about 10 feet apart. From there, few people were even found on the streets of Capitol Hill, a rather toned neighborhood of brownstones and townhouses, and the only protester spotted was the typical religious fanatic convinced Biden was going to hell.
With so few people attending this inauguration, the screening process was swift but extensive, with evidence of a negative Covid-19 test. Once escorted past even more troops on the Western Front of the Capitol, the martial atmosphere gave way to something entirely different, a much more serene scene, where concerns were more about staying warm as a cold wind was picking up and there was a brief period of snow showers.
Most of the guests who arrived at the Western Front Steps immediately gazed at the makeshift inaugural platform, podium, and risers, then looked up at the polished dome of the Capitol. Then even lawmakers who have a certain mandate are forced to get their own iPhone photos before the presidential staging.
The view to the west of the Lincoln Memorial was equally inspiring, with a river of flags replacing people.
Jon Ossoff, hours away from becoming a US senator, spoke to reporters before breaking up with his wife. “We’re going to enjoy the moment a bit,” he said.
For about an hour ahead of time, elected officials, Biden’s friends and donors mingled on the steps of the Capitol, where just two weeks ago rioters made their way through security and through the doors. Today, at the same location, the US Marine Band performed a selection which included “Fanfare for Democracy” by John Phillip Sousa and James Stephenson.
Alex Padilla, about to be sworn in as the next California senator, said being at the inauguration made it seem like “a tremendous weight has been lifted”, especially since Donald Trump’s era was drawing to a close.
Jeff Flake, who as a senator from Arizona was one of Trump’s few Republican critics, predicted the former president’s influence would wane.
“I think; I thought so even before that,” he says. “Once you lose the traps of office and the levers of power, and in particular Trumpism, it takes a certain amount of bluster that you lose when you lose. I thought he would lose his influence anyway. After what happened two weeks ago, it will only accelerate. “
By the time Biden spoke, the sun was out and the temperatures were rising a bit. The crowd was rather restrained, nothing like it in 2009, when George W. Bush’s helicopter flew over the Capitol and the shopping center. It was also not like in 2013, when many attendees never heard Obama’s speech because an anti-abortion protester had climbed a tree and shouted throughout the speech.
The scarcity of spectators made this ceremony different from any recent inauguration, less than by design than by a feeling of caution. Perhaps the relative peace of this swearing-in ceremony made the highlights more meaningful, such as when Amanda Gorman recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” and the verse:
Where to find the light in this endless hue?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade through.
We braved the belly of the beast
We learned that calm is not always peace
And the standards and concepts
of what is right
Isn’t always just ice cream
And yet the dawn is ours
before you know it