People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh

Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

The Jan. 6 rampage on Capitol Hill has only made matters worse

Some pomp. Very different circumstances.

Inauguration day is supposed to be a star-spangled showcase of inalienable democratic spirit, the sort of patriotic, bunting-festooned display that only happens in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Instead, Wednesday’s ceremony making Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the 46th president of the United States is liable to feel more like a shotgun wedding.

“It is going to look like a country under siege,” said Brett Bruen, a consultant and former U.S. diplomat who worked as an adviser in Barack Obama’s White House.

The 2021 inauguration was never going to be the grand affair of past years, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Jan. 6 rampage on Capitol Hill has only made matters worse.

Hundreds of furious Donald Trump supporters, rabid with the president’s lies of a grand conspiracy to deny him a second term, overpowered police and stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Biden’s victory.

Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer. The FBI is investigating the possibility there was a plan to make it much worse. And Trump has since been impeached — again — on a single count of “incitement of insurrection.”

Law-enforcement officials, meanwhile, are bracing for widespread Trump-friendly protests in the city Sunday, as well as at state capitols from coast to coast, determined to avoid a repeat of last week’s violent pandemonium.

In downtown D.C., the legacy of that day is everywhere.

City block after city block, endless spans of imposing iron fence, patrolled by the National Guard, stand in place of the teeming crowds that typically line downtown streets whenever a new president takes the oath of office.

The U.S. Capitol Building, normally a sparkling backdrop to one of American democracy’s most sacred rituals, still bears scars from last week’s foundation-shaking riots. Some state capitols have boarded up their windows.

The people who usually crowd the National Mall — the iconic expanse of grass between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument standing sentry in between — will be replaced by a “field of flags,” a tribute to their absence.

And instead of the national capital playing host to a 24-hour marathon of black-tie cocktail receptions and glittering gala balls, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is urging people to stay away.

The images of tens of thousands of armed soldiers, police officers and other law enforcement officials in the streets, guarding the two-metre barriers encircling the Capitol, will be seared into the U.S. consciousness for years to come.

“All because of one man’s hurt ego,” Bruen said. “It’s a sad, shameful moment for our country.”

READ MORE: Airbnb to block, cancel Washington, D.C. bookings ahead of inauguration

The Canadian Embassy’s location on Pennsylvania Ave., with a balcony and rooftop patio just a block from the Capitol, has long made it an ideal venue for watching the proceedings, including the inaugural parade.

In years past, an honour guard of RCMP officers would stand outside the building, saluting the newly anointed president as his motorcade drove past, while diplomatic staff hosted all manner of foreign dignitaries for a ringside viewing party.

“With the parade, you had the marching bands from every state — all 50 states and territories, they had marching bands,” recalled Gary Doer, who was Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. during Barack Obama’s tenure as president.

“Those marching bands will be displaced by marching soldiers. That’s just horrible — but necessary.”

The embassy has been sparsely staffed for months, thanks to the pandemic; that’s not likely to change any time soon. Spokeswoman Diana Tam refused to say whether any special security measures will be in place this week.

“The safety and security of employees working at our missions abroad remains a key priority for the government of Canada,” Tam said. “As such, we do not provide specific details regarding the security of our missions abroad.”

On Friday, D.C.’s normally bustling core was eerily vacant as military-issue Humvees and troop transports blocked major intersections and soldiers steered the usual commuter traffic away from downtown.

On every block, workers continued to erect the unscalable iron fencing that’s now a fixture at the White House and state capitols. Crews framed wooden barriers to protect storefronts from damage. Streets were largely deserted.

The famous Willard Intercontinental Hotel next door to the White House tried to rekindle some inaugural spirit with flags outside the windows and a banner welcoming the new administration. The stately Treasury Building had bunting decorating its pillars.

But there was no masking a sense of foreboding.

“I’m just so sad about this fortifying of our nation’s capital, not only with police but with the army, with guns slung across their chests,” said Susan Saudek, a retiree from Baltimore who lives just four blocks from Capitol Hill.

“I am just really sad for America that this has happened. At the same time, I’m grateful for the protection.”

The inauguration committee is doing its best to compensate.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Jennifer Lopez will perform. The proceedings will be carried live by most major networks, as well as a host of online streaming services.

Organizers say Biden will make his way to the White House via traditional presidential escort, “providing the American people and world with historic images of the president-elect proceeding to the White House without attracting large crowds and gatherings.”

And the day is to end with a star-studded prime-time celebration of the inaugural theme, “America United,” hosted by Tom Hanks and featuring performances and appearances by Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and Justin Timberlake.

Tracie McKissic, a D.C. resident and former high school principal who joined Saudek downtown Friday, said she was reminded of the words of author Masha Gessen in her 2020 book, “Surviving Autocracy.”

“She said it was time for America’s reckoning. And that’s what this looks like: America coming to grips with its truth,” McKissic said.

“I am glad to see people of diverse backgrounds being outraged that this is not who we want to be, that we can be something better, and different, and more about what our constitution says we’re supposed to be.”

READ MORE: Trump impeached for the second time, this time for ‘incitement of insurrection’

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Joe BidenUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack mine, 65 km north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack Mine, 65 kilometres north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health reports 20 more COVID-19 cases in outbreak at Brucejack Mine

So far, 42 people have tested positive, nine cases are active and self-isolating onsite

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

A collaborative genomic research project is underway to map the movements of 118 Northwest sockeye populations to better inform management decisions on at-risk stocks. (File photo)
Genomic study tracks 118 Northwest B.C. sockeye populations

Development of new tool will be used to help harvesters target healthy groups

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Most Read