Where I’m stood at the foot of American democracy, a sea of flags flutter in the wind, but the Mall is bereft of people.
There’s an almost deadly silence, bar the whirring sound of machines hoisting yet more flags on poles lining the path to the Capitol.
There are bursts of yellow and blue punctuating the horizon. And yet this visual installation represents a very dark era for America.
A country grappling with a virus that’s left 400,000 dead, safety concerns depriving people of the chance to come here and security threats created by a very recent and deadly insurrection.
When I was here four years ago, the rain poured, the crowds were not, as Sean Spicer would later claim, the largest ever. But there was at least participation, voters you could speak to, a sense of momentum and enthusiasm you could hear.
There was cheering, horns, conversations about where the country was headed.
Now, the only people here are journalists, us all separated by white tents and heavily armed National Guard, parading past every few minutes.
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As I write, a number have been relieved of their duties after suspected links to far-right militia. It’s a city on edge – not only fearing anyone who might come from outside, but the motives of those operating inside the red zone where we are.
To get to our white tent, I passed about a dozen checkpoints, our bags checked like never before. The siege on the Capitol exposed some deep weaknesses in security – politicians just seconds away from heavily armed rioters.
Now there are 25,000 National Guard – woefully lacking on 6 January.
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Inaugurations are a grand reopening of the American experiment – a chance for presidents to carve their image of the future. Joe Biden will have to do so to an audience at home and vast swathes of Republicans who don’t believe he won legitimately.
He will need to reassure them they have a stake in his America and bring a sense of enthusiasm, without the furniture of fanfare.
But he’s got some good form on his side. His political journey to the White House has been largely delivered through TV because of COVID-19, his missives, his mission statement often presented from his basement.
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He found the words to inspire 80 million to make the effort to vote in a country where voting sadly really is still an effort.
He’ll have stars tomorrow, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Garth Brooks. But no inaugural balls and no predecessor wishing him luck. Neither of those factors will hurt him.
But what he does desperately need is an event without danger and without division. America needs some healing calm and perhaps, just an uneventful event.