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Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

D.C. prepares to inaugurate

Some pomp. Very different circumstances.

Inauguration day is supposed to be a star-spangled showcase of inalienable democratic spirit, the sort of patriotic, bunting-festooned display that only happens in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Instead, Wednesday's ceremony making Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the 46th president of the United States is liable to feel more like a shotgun wedding.

"It is going to look like a country under siege," said Brett Bruen, a consultant and former U.S. diplomat who worked as an adviser in Barack Obama's White House.

The 2021 inauguration was never going to be the grand affair of past years, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Jan. 6 rampage on Capitol Hill has only made matters worse.

Hundreds of furious Donald Trump supporters, rabid with the president's lies of a grand conspiracy to deny him a second term, overpowered police and stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Biden's victory.

Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer. The FBI is investigating the possibility there was a plan to make it much worse. And Trump has since been impeached — again — on a single count of "incitement of insurrection."

Law-enforcement officials, meanwhile, are bracing for widespread Trump-friendly protests in the city Sunday, as well as at state capitols from coast to coast, determined to avoid a repeat of last week's violent pandemonium.

In downtown D.C., the legacy of that day is everywhere.

City block after city block, endless spans of imposing iron fence, patrolled by the National Guard, stand in place of the teeming crowds that typically line downtown streets whenever a new president takes the oath of office.

The U.S. Capitol Building, normally a sparkling backdrop to one of American democracy's most sacred rituals, still bears scars from last week's foundation-shaking riots. Some state capitols have boarded up their windows.

The people who usually crowd the National Mall — the iconic expanse of grass between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument standing sentry in between — will be replaced by a "field of flags," a tribute to their absence.

And instead of the national capital playing host to a 24-hour marathon of black-tie cocktail receptions and glittering gala balls, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is urging people to stay away.

The images of tens of thousands of armed soldiers, police officers and other law enforcement officials in the streets, guarding the two-metre barriers encircling the Capitol, will be seared into the U.S. consciousness for years to come.

"All because of one man's hurt ego," Bruen said. "It's a sad, shameful moment for our country."

The Canadian Embassy's location on Pennsylvania Ave., with a balcony and rooftop patio just a block from the Capitol, has long made it an ideal venue for watching the proceedings, including the inaugural parade.

In years past, an honour guard of RCMP officers would stand outside the building, saluting the newly anointed president as his motorcade drove past, while diplomatic staff hosted all manner of foreign dignitaries for a ringside viewing party.

"With the parade, you had the marching bands from every state — all 50 states and territories, they had marching bands," recalled Gary Doer, who was Canada's ambassador to the U.S. during Barack Obama's tenure as president.

"Those marching bands will be displaced by marching soldiers. That's just horrible — but necessary."



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