As I grabbed some coffee before heading to the Capitol Building to watch the 46th President of the United States of America take his title, the lovely lady behind the counter told me she had never seen anything like this in D.C. in her life.
And all I can say as I stand here now in the freezing cold with a handful of others is that I hope America never has to see anything like this again. Nothing is as it seems. It is just horrible, in every sense.
There is no one here. And I am not saying that in the weird competitive way people talk about crowd sizes as a measure of popularity. Remember the endless quarrel over the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd versus Obama’s?
What I mean is that there is literally no one here. Even pressed up to the gates within sight of the Capitol Building there is barely a handful of Biden supporters — alongside a small gaggle of media, scratching about, trying to find something to film.
Residents with the means to do so have moved out. Others stay locked in their homes. And visitors heeded the fear-mongering and stayed away. I was called ‘a moron with a death wish’ for traveling here to document this event. And even though it is perfectly safe, no one is here to bear witness to this event.
This should be an historical moment for the country. Instead it feels like an illusion, fabricated for the TV, right down to the made-for-TV flags and columns of light on the mall.
Not only is the city completely abandoned by ordinary Americans, but it feels like a military garrison, courtesy of 25,000 National Guard troops, police, and Secret Service posted at every intersection. Many of them are sleeping at my hotel and I couldn’t wish for better roommates.
But their frustration is obvious. These good men and women have left their homes, families and jobs to be here, but to what end? We can all see there is no threat to be faced. Fake news is relying on repeating their footage of the riot at Capitol Hill to perpetuate the myth that this is a city under siege to domestic terror.
D.C. now feels like one giant stage built entirely for a drama of the Democrats’ own creation. I’d argue the troops are being used as bit-part actors, for crowd scenes and effect. If you wanted to create the illusion that the Trump administration turned America into a war zone, what better way than to make D.C. a green zone, build ramparts and blockades, and fill it with troops, trucks, and men with weapons?
Bizarrely, even in this militarized zone, Black Lives Matter still gets a free pass.
Republicans, particularly white Republicans, are now tarnished with the label ‘domestic terrorists’ and are all policed as such. I can feel the eyes of the plainclothes officers on me as I move about in D.C. One photographs my face, then slips away.
And yet on Black Lives Matter Plaza, just a block or two from the White House, BLM protesters seem to enjoy special privileges. The entry point to this place remains relatively open and welcoming, their music system gives the place a party feel, and there are no National Guards visible here.
How did we end up at a place where Republicans and Democrats are policed differently, even inside a militarized zone?
I feel some pity for the media crews wandering around the lonely streets desperate for something to feed back to their bosses’ funding of their trip. They know they have to film something, but when there is nothing, what are they supposed to do? Predictably, they resort to yet another closeup of the National Guard. It is soul-destroying stuff.
It feels numb here, like watching surgery on your own hand when you are anesthetized against the pain, but can still see the knife cutting flesh and watch your own blood flow. That’s exactly what it is like in D.C. Without people, there is no emotion. And without emotion, no one can feel anything. And just like surgery, it feels unreal.
It is emotion that makes these events matter. And there is none to be had here. This is a sterilized inauguration in a city sanitized by a garrison of troops. All you can feel is numb.
Biden stepped up to the podium, on an empty stand, addressing a mall void of life and spoke of his hopes for unity:
This is our moment of crises and challenge. And unity is the only path forward… Let’s start afresh. Let’s start to listen to one another, see one another, hear one another.
I look around at all the facemasks and muted mouths. And feel my eyes roll in their sockets.
We must reject a culture in which facts are manipulated and manufactured.
I remember those suitcases of ballots being hauled out from under tables in Pennsylvania, and the statistically improbably vote dumps in the swing states, and wonder how this old man is not choking on his words.
America has to be better than this. Just look around. Here we stand in the shadow of the capitol dome. We endured. We prevailed.
I look around just as he asks us to do, and I see how barren it all is. This man is all but alone with his lies. Nothing has prevailed here, not joy, not emotion, and certainly not the will of the American people.
As I walk back to my hotel, feeling about ready to sit with the homeless man and share his cheap whisky, I meet a woman who has traveled from Texas to be here because of her love for Biden — and because she was here four years ago for the pussy marches in which she had such a fantastic time.
She can’t believe she is all alone and that the city is so deserted. Not only that, but she can’t get close enough to see or hear anything. So much for Biden’s plea to ‘see each other, listen to each other, hear each other’. This poor woman has not seen another soul.
She tells me she just feels really, really disappointed.
I hug her and tell her I feel it too. Biden asked for unity. Perhaps this is it. His supporters and I are united in our disappointment.