The United States today celebrates the tensest transfer of presidential powers in 160 years since Abraham Lincoln took office surrounded by armed men after seven states had unilaterally declared independence in fear that the new president would limit the expansion of slavery towards the new territories of the West.
Five weeks later, civil war broke out between the secessionist defenders of slavery and the defenders of national unity as opposed to its expansion. That is not the case in the United States in 2021. No one fears a civil war between supporters of the outgoing president, Donald Trump, and the winner of the November 3 election. But even so, the tension is enormous.
Lincoln, at least, had an audience. Some 20,000 people attended the event. And it also had the respect of its predecessor. The outgoing president, James Buchanan, carried out the tradition and accompanied the president-elect to the Capitol, the building that houses the two houses of the US Congress and in which the swearing-in ceremony takes place or, as it is known in the United States. United, the inauguration. Buchanan had not run for reelection. Instead, it had been his vice president, John Breckinridge, who, despite his defeat, was on Capitol Hill waiting for the president-elect.
Joe Biden will have none of that. For the first time since George Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1789, in New York City (in an event in which the Spanish Navy ship Galveston fired thirteen salvoes in honor of the new president), there will be no audience in the opening.
The Mall – the large park that occupies the center of the capital of the United States, famous for its presence in Hollywood films – will be empty, fearing that the supporters of the outgoing president carry out violent acts such as the one on 6 January, when they stormed the Capitol, in an action unprecedented in the history of the United States in which five people were killed, including a police officer. The only thing that will be in the Mall will be 200,000 American flags in tribute to all the people who have not been able to attend the ceremony.
That ‘field of flags’ will be all that remains of the hundreds of thousands of people – the record, set by Barack Obama in 2008, is 1.8 million – who attend these events. The only real witnesses to the swearing-in of the forty-sixth president of the United States will be the president of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, the congressmen, the foreign ambassadors, and the ‘pool’ of media that the White House covers daily. All other invitations have been canceled.
There will also be 25,000 soldiers with weapons of war, who yesterday completed their deployment in Washington, a city of just 705,000 inhabitants, protecting the act. At least a dozen of them were relieved of their duties yesterday after the FBI discovered that they are followers of the QA non conspiracy theory, which claims that Trump is fighting alone against a network of pedophiles that controls the world.
It is another memory of Lincoln’s inauguration when, as the writer Julia Taft, who was just 15 years old at the time and present at the event, recounted, “as soon as we occupied the places we had been assigned, we saw a line of snipers dressed in jackets. Greens go up to the roof. Rumor has it that they were going to shoot anyone who approached the president’s carriage.
In this inauguration, the outgoing president, Donald Trump, will not be either. It is the first time this has happened since Martin Van Buren did not take the oath of office of William Henry Harrison in 1841. Trump leaves Washington at 8 in the morning (2 in the afternoon Spanish peninsular time), just at the time when preparations for the act of succession begin.
Also for the first time since this tradition was established, in 1825, Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, will not receive their successor at their official residence. When the Bidens arrive, they will be greeted by the mayor of the White House, that is, the person in charge of maintaining the official residence. His name is Timothy Harleth, and he has held that position since the first lady, Melania, took him from the Trump Hotel in Washington in May.
Trump will leave on Air Force One from Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington. The outgoing president has demanded a red carpet and 21 salutes of honor in his farewell. But the Armed Forces have not only rejected that request but, on top of that, they have canceled the farewell act that they have been rendering to the head of state for 40 years.
Trump, thus, leaves without acknowledging his defeat at the polls, abandoned by his people. Last night it was not confirmed that the vice president, Mike Pence, was going to attend Trump’s march, but he would do so at Biden’s inauguration.
And the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who had been one of Trump’s greatest allies, declared that the assault on the Capital was provoked by the president.Yet four-fifths of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump insist there was voter fraud. The result is the tensest opening in 120 years.