Not this year. Not after the violent invasion of the Capitol. Not with a pandemic out of control with a new and more contagious strain spiraling across the country. Not with the law enforcement agencies tasked with providing security investigating their own ranks to determine who might have aided the invaders or embraced their ideology.
I concede that this is unfair to President-elect Joe Biden, whose victory in a free, fair and historic election is reason for celebration. A good man with a good heart and a plan to yoke the country together deserves to stand on the West Front of the Capitol and raise his hand at noon to take his place in history.
But not now. Don’t your nerves seize up when you allow yourself to imagine that picture of our 46th president standing on that massive outdoor Capitol platform? Does that image collide in your brain with the horrific sizzle reel from that same location where defaming marauders were climbing the balustrades, smashing out windows and fighting police? The rioters who, at this moment, are planning their return?
Yes, the security around the Capitol will be much stronger than it was during the Jan. 6 siege. The security perimeter is being expanded. Bomb detectors, expanded fencing, radiation protection are all in place. The traditional parade had been canceled even before the riot.
But underground networks continue to call for a million-strong MAGA militia to descend on Washington, looking to disrupt the inauguration.
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey took to Twitter to raise his concerns, saying, “Given the security threat to the inauguration . . . the ceremony should be moved to a more protected space like the Capitol Dome. NOT a signal of weakness. I’ve seen a lot of combat. I’m still alive because I react immediately to signs of danger.”
McCaffrey isn’t alone. Others want the inauguration moved. “After the insurrection, which might have conceivably turned into a multiple assassination or hostage-taking, I believe that this inauguration should be in the safest possible place,” says presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “If that means an underground cavern or military base, fine with me. Safety has to come first.”
Biden announced late Wednesday that he has canceled plans to arrive in Washington by Amtrak, but he is still expected to join former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama for a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery following the swearing-in. It would be a beautiful gesture for the new commander in chief to honor the military and those who served who did not live to see that day — including his oldest son. But I would feel better if we knew nothing about these scheduled movements.
Safety is more important than ceremony right now. Survival more important than the perception of weakness. Given the threat level, the idea that we must move forward to make sure the treasonous invaders don’t win seems imprudent. The people who invaded the Capitol are disconnected from reality. They rage under the delusion that President Trump won. They have fully embraced the Big Lie. They are going to make up their own narrative no matter what.
The Secret Service and the military take the lead for security during the inauguration, and they won’t let rebels storm the Capitol a second time. But a public ceremony still gives the mob a target for its ire, and that imperils local residents, everyday visitors and Biden supporters who might also be in town. Their welfare must also be considered next week.
There are other reasons to lean toward safety. We have all had to learn how to swerve and abandon our traditions for the sake of public health in this period of pandemic.
A yield to service and sacrifice would be a potent exemplar. Especially for a president-elect who has maintained his commitment to public service and the common good throughout a series of unimaginable losses. The United States needs a president of sturdy character and strong leadership more than it needs a celebratory symbol of strength.
It pains me to write this. I was planning to woot loudly when Biden and Kamala D. Harris raised their hands on the West Front of the Capitol. And beyond that, I normally love everything about inaugurations. I love the crowds, the garish merchandise, even the traffic that shuts the city down, no matter who wins. It’s a celebration of democracy itself. A peaceful transition of power is a wondrous thing. We live in a world where tribal impulses make this kind of ceremonial segue impossible in so many places.
But the show need not go on for our democracy to flourish. For our country, for our incoming president — and for the world as a whole — safety outweighs symbolism in the midst of this storm.