WASHINGTON: Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday in a ceremony protected by 25,000 troops and face masks to ward off two potentially lethal enemies — an unrelenting virus and a frenzied mob.
Even before the inauguration begins, the incoming rulers start bragging about how many supporters they would bring to Washington to celebrate their victory. But Wednesday’s ceremony is unique — the organisers are hoping that this year’s crowd would be the smallest.
The pomp and show, associated with a presidential inauguration, has also been curtailed. Yes, there will be ceremonies. Former presidents, foreign ambassadors and congressional leaders will also be there. There will be performers too and parades will also be held, but all at a much smaller scale than in the past.
Acting US Secretary of Defence Christopher Miller said on Monday that “25,000 Guardsmen” on Washington’s streets for the inauguration and they would leave “no stone unturned in securing the capital”.
That is five times more than the soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. According to the US Department of Defence, there are currently 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Outgoing president Donald Trump plans to leave the White House early on Wednesday and Joe Biden will enter his new official residence around midday when the oath-taking ends.
The housekeeping staff told various US media outlets that they would have moving trucks ready for packing and unpacking as they would only get about five hours to do so after Trump leaves.
So far, Trump has not given a farewell statement, but the First Lady has. “I ask every American to … focus on what unites us. To rise above what divides us. To always choose love over hatred, peace over violence, and others before yourself,” she said in a seven-minute statement.
Joe Biden, who faces the monumental task of healing a divided nation, has indicated that fighting the coronavirus pandemic will be his first priority and the next will be healing the wounds caused by the Jan 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
“Our Administration will lead with science and scientists — with a CDC and NIH (health agencies) that are free from political influence, a Surgeon General who is independent and speaks directly to the people, and an FDA (another agency) whose decisions are based on science and science alone,” he wrote in a tweet posted on Monday.
The ceremonial mood that accompanies an inauguration ended on Jan 6, when a mob charged by Trump’s fiery repudiation of Biden’s win, attacked the Capitol building. Five people died in the storming and subsequent intelligence reports suggest that Trump supporters may launch similar attacks during the inauguration.
But even worse than the fear of another insurrection is the despondency and gloom caused by the Covid-19 pandemic which has already killed almost 400,000 people across the United States. The pandemic forced the Biden team to cancel most inaugural ceremonies, urging the Americans to watch the inauguration on their televisions, computers and cellphones.
Although Trump has categorically said that he will not attend the inauguration, some people say they will not be surprised if he suddenly turns up on the stage — given his proclivity to do the unexpected.
But if he sticks to his plan, Trump will be the first US president in 150 years to skip the inauguration of his successor. Yet, for himself, he wants the full protocol accorded to an outgoing president, including a full military parade. He will get a red-carpet military send-off at the Andrew airbase, near Washington, and ride Air Force One to his home in Florida. But that is the only protocol he may get.