General World

Biden inauguration: Washington ‘like a warzone’ ahead of new president’s swearing-in

A jittery United States still reeling from the attack on the Capitol Building is readying itself for a change of leadership, with Joe Biden’s inauguration just hours away.

The swearing-in ceremony will be unlike any other in history, taking place against the backdrop of a raging pandemic and profound political divisions across the country.

Yesterday, the 78-year-old bid farewell to his home state of Delaware, making an emotional speech, before leaving for the capital.

He told the crowd: “We have great opportunities, Delaware has taught us anything’s possible, anything’s possible in this country.”

But the Washington he arrived in is a reflection of the fractured dystopian political landscape.

More than 25,000 National Guard have been drafted in for fear of more violence, and for all intents and purposes the city is a warzone – it’s almost three times the number of American soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria combined.

Washington has been flooded with National Guard to protect the ceremony
Image:Washington has been flooded with National Guard to protect the ceremony

Entire streets have been sealed off and concrete slabs and large container trucks block off the entrances to the central area.

The security services say there is intelligence that the democratic institutions could be targeted by right-wing terrorists.

The level of security is unprecedented for the event
Image:The level of security is unprecedented for the event

With DC under lockdown, there will be no crowds to cheer the new president, the pandemic meant much of the ceremony would be conducted virtually any way.

The National Mall, which on Inauguration Day is ordinarily packed, has also been sealed off.

Instead, there is a display of nearly 200,000 flags to represent the people who cannot attend.

In his inaugural address, Mr Biden will speak about how he hopes to unify the country and bring about a common sense of purpose.

He will also likely emphasize that he is a president for all Americans, not just for those who voted for him.

Flags have replaced people on Washington's famous National Mall
Image:Flags have replaced people on Washington’s famous National Mall

But before the swearing-in ceremony Mr Biden will attend Mass, another indication of how much America has changed.

He’s only the country’s second Catholic president.

The first, John F Kennedy, had to repeatedly fend off accusations that Rome held too much influence over the Oval Office.

But it will not be religion that keeps the incoming leader awake at night.

He inherits a country that’s constitutionally battered and bruised after four turbulent years of Donald J Trump.

His final day in office also saw the coronavirus death toll sail past the grim figure of 400,000. The Biden administration says it will make dealing with the pandemic a priority in the days ahead.

There’s little argument though that the outgoing 45th president’s term has ended in disgrace.

Mr Trump is in the ignominious position of being the only US president to be impeached twice.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their spouses attended a COVID memorial event on Tuesday
Image:Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their spouses attended a COVID memorial event on Tuesday

He’s accused of inciting the insurrection on Capitol Hill on 6 January, which saw a violent mob storm America’s seat of democracy.

The crisis that is his presidency was perhaps most starkly underlined by denunciations from senior Republicans on his last full day in office.

Outgoing Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell accused Mr Trump of “provoking” the violence after the “mob was fed lies”.

But President Trump appears undeterred, reportedly still telling aides and anyone that will listen, that he won the election, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

He will leave for Florida in the morning after he refused to attend the inauguration of his successor. It’s another sign of just how acrimonious the transfer of power has become in this bitterly divided nation.

Since he was struck off Twitter, President Trump has been largely silent. However, yesterday he did release a 20-minute farewell video.

In it, he lists what he believes are his accomplishments and offers well wishes to his successor – although he did not mention Joe Biden by name.

He also said that “the movement we started is only just beginning”.

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