Biden’s inauguration will be held in a sad, military-occupied DC. Never forget how Trump got us here.

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A fortified Secret Service checkpoint a block from the White House the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 19, 2021. Anthony L. Fisher
  • Washington, DC, the day before Biden’s inauguration is a sad, eerie, militarised place.
  • 25,000 troops occupy DC, and ten-foot high fencing slices through some of the most iconic destinations in our capital – essentially cutting the city in half.
  • Remember this moment – and that Trump’s lies and fake conspiracy theories obliterated a norm that had been a pillar of American democracy – the peaceful transfer of power.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Washington, DC, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration is just about the saddest thing you could see if you’re a patriotic American.

The inauguration of a new president typically draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, but COVID-19 took that off the table some time ago.

Then the deadly, Trump-incited Capitol siege of January 6 turned DC into a locked-down police state, with curfews in effect until the day after the inauguration, and 25,000 National Guard troops manning fortified checkpoints.

The District is desolate. Most shops and restaurants are closed. Embassies are boarded up. The hum of the free world’s power centre is eerily muted.


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I can understand the temptation to view this as merely an odd aberration, but it’s bigger than that. If nothing else, remember this moment.

Should things ever get back to “normal,” remember that a right-wing assault on the Capitol — driven by conspiracy theories, white nationalist gangs, and the “Big Lie” of election fraud — destroyed the normalcy of the peaceful transfer of power.

Washington DC National Mall fencing Biden inauguration
A fence runs along Constitution Ave. in Washington, DC on January 19, 2021. Anthony L. Fisher

Trump’s failed coup robbed America of the one thing a democracy needs to survive

The US, as with all nation-states, has profound flaws. Both the left and right would concede this point, even if they would diagnose completely different problems.

But stripped to its barest essentials, every American could take pride in the fact that the peaceful transfer of power was maintained over two and a half centuries — even through a Civil War in which Americans killed other Americans for four years.

And the peaceful transfer of power will be maintained tomorrow, though not without a black eye.

We now know that the attack on the Capitol could have been far deadlier and politically disastrous had the rioters been able to lay eyes on any of the lawmakers who fled their chambers with barely minutes to spare.

The violent savagery demonstrated in some of the videos — the zip-tie handcuffs, the chants of “Where’s Nancy” and “Hang Mike Pence” — make it very clear that the MAGA insurrectionists didn’t bust into the Capitol for a friendly chat with their elected representatives.

As a result, the District is essentially under military occupation, with more troops here than are currently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan — by a factor of five.

National Guard troops checkpoint Washington, DC
National Guard troops at a checkpoint in Washington, DC, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 19, 2021. Anthony L. Fisher

I spoke with some of those troops. They seemed bored, pacing the hours away, many holding unloaded automatic rifles.

Ten-foot high fencing slices through some of the most iconic destinations in our capital, and essentially cuts a major part of the city in half.

Running from the Lincoln Memorial, along the entire length of the National Mall, and all the way to the Capitol and the White House, is a fully cordoned-off “Green Zone.”

I snapped this photo while standing on a cement barrier behind the fence running along Constitution Ave., directly across the street from the Mall and the Washington Monument.

This is America.

Washington Monument fence Biden inauguration
A fence runs along Constitution Ave., across from the Washington Monument and National Mall in Washington, DC on January 19, 2021. Anthony L. Fisher

The beacon of freedom and democracy, a day before a new chief executive takes the reins following a free and fair election, is a sad, silent shell of itself. And because round numbers help mark milestones, the tragedy of the country’s 400,000th COVID-related death was reported today.

Tomorrow may prove uneventful, with Biden accepting the oath of office in a slightly muted made-for-TV show proving America is still here.

But here in DC, it’s still January 6.

That was the day an American president who trafficked in lies both big and small incited some of his most credulous and vicious followers to stop the certification of his defeat.

That was the day the “peaceful transfer of power” became un-routine.