January 20th did not go as expected — and that’s a good thing
(photo credit Alex Wong / Getty Images)
January 20th, 2021 may go down in history as one of the most oddly extraordinary days in US history, notable for both what did and did not happen.
The day started with Donald Trump, who in his final tweet announced that he would not be attending the inauguration of Joe Biden, held a sparsely attended farewell rally at Joint Base Andrews. To the roughly 300 people in attendance, Trump vowed that “we will be back in some form” along with hitting all the talking points that had become standard in a Trump rally speech. Trump did not concede the 2020 election or even mention Biden by name, the closest he got to acknowledging the incoming administration was wishing them “great luck and great success.” After his speech Trump, along with Melania, simply got on Air Force One and departed for Mar-A-Lago.
The circumstances and optics of Trump’s departure from the White House were surprising. A man who was used to drawing tens of thousands of supporters to his rallies, who two weeks prior had encouraged a riot at the Capitol building, a man who told his supporters to “fight like hell” and that “we will never ever surrender”, at the end gave a speech to a handful of devotees and then quietly left DC. The contrast between his departure and his 2017 inauguration speech could not be more stark; the man that came in with a fire and brimstone speech speaking of “American carnage” left with barely a sound.
After Trump’s departure came the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President. And, like Trump’s farewell, the circumstances and optics of the inauguration ceremony were surprising. In the days leading up to Inauguration Day, Washington DC had been turned into something resembling a Green Zone in Iraq. 25,000 National Guard troops were deployed to DC to prevent any possible attacks on the Inauguration Day ceremony, all of whom were vetted by the FBI to ensure that nobody in their ranks posed a threat. A seven-foot-high fence surrounded the Capitol grounds, several blocks around the White House were shut to everyone except those who could prove they had a valid reason to be there, and bridge closures cut off access to DC from the outside. All of this was in response to the Capitol riot that took place on January 6th and the fear that there would be another attack attempted on Inauguration Day.
Despite, or maybe because of, all those precautions the Inauguration Day ceremony itself was uneventful. The usual Inauguration Day crowd was not present; due to the COVID pandemic invites to the ceremony were severely restricted, and due to the Capitol riot no members of the public could watch the ceremony from the Mall. The ceremony itself was quite lovely — the small crowd size and the tone of solemn seriousness made the inauguration feel less like a coronation and more like the routine swearing-in of an elected official. After being sworn in as president Biden gave a decent speech, the most remarkable aspect of it being that it clocked in at only 21 minutes. And that was it. The Inaugural Ball and the usual slate of luncheons, dinners, cocktail parties, and fancy dress balls had already been canceled due to the pandemic (for once politicians and DC bigwigs considered the optics of throwing lavish parties in the middle of a pandemic). Biden spent the afternoon in the Oval Office signing executive orders centered around undoing Trump’s immigration policy, mandating mask-wearing on federal property, and setting up his COVID vaccination plan among other things.
The lack of violence at both events, and nationwide, is notable. The rumored protests at state capitols fizzled out into a handful of small protests that seemed to have more members of the press present to cover them than actual protesters. At the inauguration, the small number of protesters who showed up despite the beefed-up security didn’t seem to have their hearts in it either.
Two extraordinary things happened on January 20th; Trump left the office of the presidency and Biden assumed the office. Both of those events happened in the most ordinary, low-key way possible, which given the events leading up to them is an extraordinary feat. The words that best describe that day — peaceful, orderly, quiet — are the last words anyone expected to be able to use. As a nation we certainly aren’t anywhere near close to “normal” yet, however, I now have a little more hope than I did before January 20th that as a nation we can get back to “decent” in the near future and that’s all anyone can hope for right now.
(photo credit Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Originally published at https://jenmonroe.substack.com.