“Thank God!” Blocker yelled. “Finally! A new beginning!”
As the nation’s capital, Washington has hosted every president since John Adams, a designation that requires its left-leaning population to forge a respectful, if not always admiring, view of whoever occupies the White House.
Yet, with Trump, the most polarizing president in recent memory, many Washingtonians dispensed with any pretense of tolerance. Their disdain for the outgoing president was evident on Wednesday as they exalted over his departure and expressed relief over Biden’s swearing-in.
“BYEDON” read the 25-foot banner that Elizabeth Ham had special-ordered and laid across her lawn in 16th Street Heights, hoping Trump would look down and see it as he flew overhead on his way out of town.
Ham brought the banner — which notes the electoral college count and Biden’s vote total — to a neighbor’s house, where they watched the inauguration in the backyard. Warmed by heat lamps, they drank champagne and feasted on brisket, monkey bread and pão de queijo.
“Woo!” someone shouted as Harris took the oath and became vice president.
“Libby! She!” Brett Cloninger-West, the host, told his 7-year-old daughter. “There’s never been a ‘she’ vice president!”
“And it won’t be the last,” Ham said.
When it was Biden’s turn to be sworn in, the city’s sidewalks north of downtown were largely silent, a reflection, perhaps, of the blustery winds and precautions Washingtonians were taking amid a pandemic and threats of unrest.
On barren and mostly boarded-up U Street, Ben’s Chili Bowl was among the few restaurants that drew patrons, including Dannon Childs. He compared the subdued emotion of the day with when he attended the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2013.
“The pomp and circumstance is gone,” Childs said. “The feeling of hope is still there.”
Farther west on Massachusetts Avenue NW, the streets surrounding the U.S. Naval Observatory — the vice president’s official residence — were desolate.
“WELCOME HOME,” read two large red, white and blue banners across the street, a festive welcome for Harris, its new tenant.
Outside the house where Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in Kalorama, the contingent of Secret Service SUVs were gone. Two workmen were cutting wood to build moving crates for furniture, including a marble table that had been carried outside.
A few passing pedestrians stopped to take photos.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” Dina Kawar, Jordan’s ambassador to the United States, who lives across from the Kushner-Trump house, said as she returned from the inauguration in the early afternoon.
Unlike Obama, who liked to eat at Washington’s restaurants and visit bookstores, Trump’s relationship with the city was almost nonexistent. His infrequent outings were mainly limited to dining at his own Trump International Hotel, several blocks from the White House, and visiting his golf course in suburban Virginia.
Trump earned the enmity of many Washingtonians for that, as well as his administration’s right-leaning policies. They were further angered when federal troops used tear gas and projectiles to clear out a mass gathering of protesters in June before he walked to St. John’s Church from the White House for a photo opportunity.
But the nadir of Trump’s tenure turned out to be Jan. 6, when supporters of his campaign to overturn his election defeat stormed the U.S. Capitol — leading to the deaths of a Capitol Police officer and four others, triggering a curfew and prompting the installation of thousands of National Guard troops.
“Good riddance,” said Tony Lopez, 49, a professor who stood on an Adams Morgan street corner early Wednesday, hoping for a last glimpse of Marine One as it transported Trump from the White House to Joint Base Andrews. “It’s the end of an awful time.”
Greta Fuller, 58, an electrical engineer who lives in Anacostia, typically commemorates the transition between presidents on the National Mall, at a friend’s house or at a downtown bar. When Obama was president, she attended an inaugural ball.
But as Biden was sworn in, Fuller watched alone in her house, in no mood to venture out. “I do feel like celebrating, but I’m not there yet,” she said. “My neighbors and I, we feel like we’ve been traumatized by the last four years. And I’m worried the story is not over.”
As she watched the inauguration at her house in the Woodland neighborhood, Blocker, 36, a community organizer, said she was wary because of the recent mayhem at the Capitol and the threat of the coronavirus.
“We do have something to celebrate, but we’re looking over our shoulders,” she said.
Still, she said she felt a sense of relief that Trump had departed, ending a reign that had made her fearful as never before. “What took the cake for me was how he dealt with the virus,” said Blocker, whose daughter was infected and recovered. “He was supposed to protect us, and he didn’t.”
In Woodley Park, Robert and Laura Meisnere months ago expressed their outrage about the president’s response to the pandemic by posting a sign outside their house announcing the tally of coronavirus deaths — a sight they knew then-Vice President Mike Pence would see every day as his motorcade passed by.
“HEY PENCE, 400k DEATHS, BYE BYE!” the board read Wednesday morning.
With Trump’s departure, Meisnere, 54, a property manager, planned to remove the sign. While he watched the inauguration on television with his wife, as he does every four years, he said a celebration felt inappropriate.
“There are still 400,000 people dead,” he said.
By midafternoon, pockets of outdoor celebration could be found here and there. At the corner of Tulip Avenue and Cedar Street in Takoma Park, just over the Maryland border, a cellist and violinist accompanied a gathering of people singing “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.”
The group has been assembling every night on the same corner since March to create a sense of community during the pandemic.
“Some days, it was hard to sing patriotic songs,” said Ann Procter, an organizer who wore pearls to honor Harris’s necklace of choice. “But today is a new day.”
Ivy Valant brought her two young sons to join the festivities, which included a life-size cardboard cutout of Biden and Harris that was available for selfies.
“It’s like a bright light, and I want to share it with them,” she said of the moment.
In Friendship Heights, Jill Diskan, 78, a retired urban planner, drank champagne with neighbors as a friend climbed a ladder to remove black and blue mourning-style bunting she hung on the front door of her house to mark Trump’s arrival four years ago.
For those who could not attend in person, Diskan broadcast her ceremony over Zoom.
At least one participant wore a sweatshirt that read, “End of an Error.”
When Diskan first put up the bunting after ordering it online, neighbors asked, “Is everything okay? Did you lose somebody?” she recalled.
“ ‘No, no, It’s because of Trump,’ ” she told them. “My vow was that I would not take it down until he was no longer in office.”
At times over the past four years, Diskan said, she became so angry about the 45th president that she stopped turning on her television. Now, she said, she feels relief and joy, even as she’s aware that the country’s troubles are far from over.
“It’s not undiluted joy, and it won’t be long-term,” she said. “But it’s a moment of relief. It has just been horrible. Just horrible.”