Today marks the final day of the Trump presidency. Tomorrow, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn into office and seek to re-establish order in an America that has become accustomed to chaos in the Trump era. However, Inauguration Day this year is fundamentally distinct from every previous one.
Biden’s swearing-in ceremony comes in the midst of the coronavirus which has infected almost 24 million Americans and killed almost 400,000. Accordingly, the Biden-Harris team has instructed celebrations to be extremely reduced, including the absence of the normal viewing stands on the parade route. The event will subsequently be markedly quieter than traditional ceremonies. In order to ensure maximum precautions policies of mandatory masks, temperature checks of guests, and social distancing measures are being employed for the historic event.
Despite that the ceremony will be diminished in size, the significance and anticipation of the event is far more significant than in previous years. Wednesday’s historical tradition will see political and democratic integrity restored to the White House. This also includes the most diverse White House staff that America has ever seen, in terms of gender and race, in a time when it is especially necessary to combat the racial divisions that have regained momentum in the last four years. The riots at Capitol Hill only two weeks ago demonstrated the magnitude of the political fissure cutting through America, illustrating the intensity of the division of the country that Biden is about to inherit and strive to unite.
Reports surfacing over the past two weeks, though, suggest that American citizens, primarily Trump enthusiasts, simply are not ready to reconcile. Officials are amplifying warnings of rioting and further violence on Inauguration Day, leaving the streets of DC resembling more the Middle East than the supposed beacon of Western liberal democracies. A seven-foot-high fence currently surrounds the Capitol and the National Guard is stationed throughout the area, devising a surreal scene less reminiscent of a flourishing first world state and more akin to the beginning of a dystopian nightmare.
Whilst some may believe this is a hyperbolic depiction, I argue that we have simply become desensitised to destruction and chaos. In an age prevalent with white supremacists, international terrorism, and the underlying violent tendencies of nationalism, which must not be mistaken for patriotism, we are constantly bombarded with violence. Through social media and 24/7 news updates, violent rhetoric and action are no longer surprising. The serious consequence of this is that we are at risk to underplay the significance of violence and foolishly fail to ensure justice is achieved when it is undertaken.
The anticipation surrounding Inauguration Day can be felt in the findings of federal prosecutors. They have revealed insights into the intentions of the insurrections from January 6th, bleakly reporting that they discovered substantial evidence of intention to capture and assassinate members of the House and Senate. For instance, it was found that Jacob Chansley, who is a QAnon conspiracy theorist and was photographed wearing horns during the riots inside the Capitol building, left a message for Vice President Pence following his refusal to follow Trump’s orders to reject Biden’s win of the electoral college: “it is only a matter of time, justice is coming”.
In an equally gruesome fashion, the chant “Hang Mike Pence” was echoed during the riot by the mob. Whilst many could discard this as mere rhetoric by those caught up in the atmosphere surrounding them, the assembly of a hangman’s noose outside of the Capitol begs to differ. One mob member was even carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs, the kind intended for taking hostages.
The culmination of violence from January 6th leaves the fate of Inauguration Day unstable, particularly with reports of upcoming armed protests in all 50 states. On Saturday a Virginia man attempted to pass through a Capitol police checkpoint with a loaded handgun, 500 rounds of ammunition, and fake inaugural credentials. The unspoken implication of this attempted deception conveys a nation on the precarious edge of complete civil disorder.
The next few days will define whether America has what it takes to rediscover its standing in the world order and if there is potential for it to regain the trust and respect of its skeptical allies. If the rioters return this week, the ability of American citizens to coexist in a respectful manner could be beyond the reach of peaceful resolution, forcing America into an indefinite turmoil.