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

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Camosun Cares hampers will be delivered weekly to students for a period of nine weeks. (Photo courtesy of Camosun College)
Weekly care hampers offered to Camosun College students in need

The Camosun Cares hamper delivers fresh produce, prepared meals, hygiene products and even recipes

Victoria police are looking for 45-year-old Charlene Woods. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Missing woman last seen in Victoria on New Year’s Day

Police working to locate Charlene Woods, 45

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

Millstream Village is welcoming a new Marshalls location March 9. (Photo courtesy GWL Realty Advisors)
New Marshalls store in Langford brings boost to women in need

Retailer will hold opening ceremony in Millstream Village March 9

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

The humanoid sensing robot has a 3D printed finger cap that measures oxygen levels. (Dr. Woo Soo Kim)
Medical care robots being made with 3D origami in B.C. lab

Would you let a robot take your temperature?

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)
Indigenous consent must come first and last for B.C. industrial projects

UN declaration seen as end to a history of horror stories

FILE  - In this Friday, Jan 1, 2021 file photo, a lorry driver's documents are scanned on a phone as he passes a checkpoint for the train through the Eurotunnel link with Europe in Folkestone, England. One month after Britain made a New Year split from the European Union's economic embrace, businesses that once traded freely are getting used to frustrating checks, delays and red tape. Meat exporters say shipments have rotted in trucks awaiting European health checks. Scottish fishermen have protested at Parliament over the catch they can no longer sell to the continent because of byzantine new paperwork. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)
FINLAYSON: Government should focus on strengthening B.C.’s leading export industries

To revive the economy, this piece in the strategy is integral, writes Jock Finlayson

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Most Read