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Stage set for the most historic US inauguration

The US looks to put a line under the Trump administration

By Ricky Browne

The Presidential Inauguration on January 20th will be unlike any other in US history for a number of reasons.

On that day Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. The stage is already being set at the Capitol building in Washington DC, just as it has been set countless times before.

But this time is a little different.

Hundreds of National Guard troops hold inside the Capitol Visitor’s Center to reinforce security at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

REASONS

First of all hundreds of US National Guard soldiers are currently encamped inside the Capitol building, the first time in living memory, to safeguard the building and the inauguration itself from the kind of attack the building faced on January 6th from supporters of President Donald Trump.

National Guard troops roll in to protect the US Capitol. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Its said that there is currently a bigger security presence in Washington now than there is currently in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be 20,000 National Guard troops in Washington for the inauguration — which compares to 8,000 for Trump’s inauguration four years ago.

So that’s different.

Second, the outgoing President – who yesterday had the distinction of being the first president in US history to be impeached by the House two times — will not attend. Or at least he has said he won’t attend. Some people have pointed out that by not attending he makes the occasion a safer target for his supporters who may want to attack, but who may have been put off by the thought of hurting him. He will be the fourth outgoing president, and the first since Andrew Jackson in 1869, to not attend the inauguration.

Third, there is no doubt a desire to ensure that this inauguration should be better supported and attended by the last one.

Photos like this did the rounds on international media four yers ago to show the difference between Trump’s and Obama’s 2009 inauguration crowds. Photos by Reuters and Pool Camera.

When Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, his crowds were significantly less than Barack Obama’s crows had been. The news stations took some pleasure in pointing this out, with photos of the two crowds. This embarrassed Trump, who took pains to ensure that his spokespeople would say with a straight face that the networks and people’s eyes were lying, and that Trump in fact had the biggest inauguration ever.

But fourthly, and potentially most importantly, though the fear of an assassination attempt could realistically be higher, is that the country and the whole world is under attack from the Covid-19 pandemic, and is indeed in a second wave which seems even more powerful than the first.

So, for all those combined reasons, this inauguration is surely unlike any other in US history.

SHOULD THE SHOW GO ON?

The question is, with all the potential dangers, should the inauguration happen at all in its regular fashion? Are the dangers that having a traditional inauguration on the steps of the Capitol building greater than the potential rewards?

Well, with all its firepower and ability, the US National Guard should be able to prevent another attack on the Capitol building, especially an attack from the kind of indisciplined mob that stormed the building last week.

National Guard take it step by step on manoeuvres outside the Capitol  Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

So with the extra security, Joe Biden, outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, and all the people in attendance should be quite safe, though perhaps not quite as relaxed as they would normally be.

If the inauguration was not held in its normal place at this time, due to a security threat, it could make the US lose face on the world stage – suggesting that it had no confidence in the power of its own security. And, thus weakened, it would have difficulty projecting its power on that same stage.

President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

So the fear of an attack, especially an undisciplined attack, is not sufficient to change venue.

The fact that Donald Trump may not be there is of course of no consequence. That is really an embarrassment to Trump. It is a unique situation for sure. And there is the concern that by not being there, Trump is making the event more attractive for an attack. But it should have no bearing on the decision to hold the event in its normal place.

The Trumps and the Obamas posed for a photo together for the 58th presidential inauguration in 2017. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Bloomberg

And at least Trump has stated that he wants no violence.

“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” Trump is reported to have said. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”

The desire to have a bigger inauguration than Trump’s probably not being vocalised much. But it’s still real. It will be embarrassing on the face of it, if Biden’s inauguration is smaller than Trump’s, as it would suggest that the nation is divided, and that Biden is not able to match Trump, much less Obama, in the size of his crowd.

And the move by AirBnB and others, to not allow any guests in their rooms for the inauguration period, will make it even harder for true supporters of Biden to attend. True AirBnB made that call based on trying to prevent Trump supporters from flooding the capital. But this is the flip side of that crowd – less Biden supporters.

The fear of being in the middle of an active war zone may also put off a number of supporters.

So the likelihood that the numbers at this inauguration will be quite low is high – even if you don’t consider the pandemic.

CONSIDER THE PANDEMIC

Which brings us onto the pandemic.

Republicans Vicky Hartzler and Michael Waltz hand pizzas to members of the National Guard in the Capitol on Wednesday. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

This is really the most important reason for not holding the inauguration in its traditional way.

Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden has gone to considerable lengths to keep crowd sizes low during his election campaign and even afterwards. While  thousands of Trump supporters were crowding his events, Biden’s were sparse in comparison, with many people being ensconced in their well-spaced vehicles. The atmosphere was dull to the extreme and had little to no vibe.

Joe Biden on stage at a rally in Atlanta, Georgia last year, speaks to a crowd full of cars. Photo:   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

But he was making a point, and that was that he takes the pandemic seriously, and he is not willing to risk the lives of Americans, by creating events where the likelihood of spreading the virus is high.

That is why he is always careful to be seen wearing a mask, making a point of removing it only when he is about to speak.

So how then, can he allow large crowds at his inauguration? Masks or not, outside or not, the likelihood is that the virus will spread.

TWO HANDS

So on one hand you want to demonstrate to the world that you can hold the inauguration just as before, though with a much larger security presence. And you want to show that you have turned a corner in terms of support, by having a much larger audience than Trump had.

But on the other hand you don’t want to appear to be a hypocrite by having a massive crowd breathing on each other – which bearing in mind that the security risk increased with each person who is there.

Stormy clouds hang over the upcoming inauguration. Photo:Washington Post

Chances are that the this inauguration will try to have at least as many people as Trump’s had – but with anti-Covid-19 protocols in place. That may mean only insisting that masks are worn, and that there is some degree of social distancing.

Maybe everyone will have to prove that they have a clear test, or that they have been vaccinated.

Whatever the case, this inauguration will make history.

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