Perhaps the only inauguration to compare with the massive security surrounding that of Joe Biden was that of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. On the eve of the American Civil War, the newly elected President of the United States had to dodge and break through a path through the territory of the slave state to reach the American capital. Unlike Lincoln, who arrived by train incognito in the middle of the night, Mr Biden canceled his ceremonial arrival in Washington on Amtrak – a trip he made every day for more than three decades. The security risk was simply too great.
But Mr. Biden took other risks. Against the advice of some members of the security agencies, Mr Biden will be sworn in on the steps of the Capitol – the same building that was stormed two weeks ago by Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” crowd. Along with former Presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton, Mr. Biden will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier across the Potomac River in Arlington Cemetery after the dedication.
In a sign of increased concern, officials have checked the backgrounds of the 25,000 troops who will patrol and guard Washington’s vast green zone. The day before the inauguration, two National Guard soldiers were dismissed from their posts because of alleged links to far-right groups.
“I have to question the wisdom of holding these events out – it seems like an unnecessary risk,” said Michael Beschloss, a prominent presidential historian. “One wonders if the ‘business-as-usual’ image Biden wants to project outweighs the significant threat to his security and other dignitaries.
In 1861, the US military was on the lookout for the infamous “plug-uglies” – a nativist criminal ring who wanted to assassinate Lincoln. He went through the day unscathed. At least once during his presidency, an enemy sniper penetrated his top hat. He finally fell under the bullet of an assassin in 1865.
The Secret Service, the FBI and the DC Police are keeping a close watch on encrypted communications among the panoply of far-right groups who want to prevent Mr. Biden from being sworn in – or who view his presidency as illegitimate. Of these, the oath-keepers, the three percent, proud boys and various groups inspired by QAnon are important.
Even without the security dimension, Mr. Biden’s inauguration would have been largely virtual. With the death toll from the US pandemic continuing to rise, there would have been no traditional crowds along Pennsylvania Avenue between Capitol Hill and the White House.
There will also be no transfer ceremony between Mr Trump and Mr Biden. The last time an outgoing president refused to attend his successor’s swearing-in ceremony was in 1869, when Andrew Johnson boycotted the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant. “Johnson had just been impeached, he was angry that he lost the election and he didn’t have many friends left,” Mr Beschloss said. “Does this remind you of anyone?”
The healing tone and content of Mr. Biden’s address is likely to make a stark contrast to Mr. Trump’s dystopian ‘American carnage’ speech Four years ago. The atmosphere too. Mr Trump’s highly controversial inaugural commission will be the subject of court hearings later this year. The District of Columbia attorney general accused Mr. Trump’s team of spending much of the $ 107 million they raised for the event paying inflated prices for the Trump International Hotel and other branches of the Trump organization.
“It was the most shocking experience of my life,” said Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who was a key player on Trump’s inaugural committee, and who, as a former Vogue employee, befriended with Melania Trump when she appeared on the cover of the magazine in 2003. “The level of self-trafficking and deception that I saw in Trump’s inaugural celebrations was a taste of what America was going to do. cross for the next four years. ”
Mr Biden’s inauguration will also create a very different contrast to that of Barack Obama First in 2009, which drew crowds of 1.9m in front of a sparkling snow covered foreground. Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director, pointed out that it would be impossible to create a movie set like this.
Even without the heightened security tensions and the pandemic, this occasion would have been different. Mr. Biden is not known for his strong oratory. It is also not known for its brevity. The most famous inaugural speeches tend to be the shortest: George Washington in 1789, Lincoln in 1861 and 1865, and John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Kennedy’s “don’t ask what your country can do for you” speech is what history best remembers his event. But it was also marred by the appearance of smoke under the lectern when Cardinal Richard Cushing, the Archbishop of Boston, gave his blessing. The cardinal later said he extended his prayer in order to protect Kennedy from a possible bombing. In this case, the smoke was found to be caused by an electrical fault.
Cushing’s blessing lasted longer than JFK’s speech. Although outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower was no fan of Kennedy, the jovial atmosphere around this event, and most other inaugurations, could not be further from that of Mr. Biden.
The 46th American president will be surrounded by a vast cage of protective fortifications more evocative of a country at war than a peaceful democracy. The man who made it all possible – Mr Trump – will have left town hours earlier for his club in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
The outgoing president and the first lady have not even followed the tradition of showing the first incoming family to the White House. Mr. Trump has also not officially conceded defeat. “Melania didn’t even invite Jill Biden for tea,” Ms. Wolkoff said. “They leave their functions as they entered it: without grace and without respect.”