President-elect Joseph R. Biden on Wednesday will give an inaugural address aimed at unifying the country, but he will wrestle with the grim reality that he must take the oath of office in a militarized zone.
From the west front of the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Biden at his inauguration will look out on a city fortified to fend off pro-Trump demonstrators after the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.
He’ll see a Washington coming under complete Democratic control and on the verge of an unprecedented Senate trial of a former president, with Mr. Biden’s Democrats trying to forever bar President Trump from again running for the White House.
Underscoring the deep political divide, Mr. Trump will boycott the inauguration, breaking more than 150 years of tradition of an in-person handoff of U.S. executive power.
“The situation he faces is absolutely brutal,” said Cody Keenan, who served as a chief speechwriter for President Obama and assisted with his two inaugural addresses.
However, he said Mr. Biden may be ”the perfect president for the moment because he is not hyperbolic, he’s not a bomb-thrower, he’s surrounded himself with policy wonks who already have all these plans. I think what we are going to hear him talk about is ‘Here’s where we are, here’s what we have to get done.’ I think that’s going to go a long way just to make people feel better.”
Conservatives set a much high bar. They see any rhetoric about the need for more gun control or policing of online speech as driving a wedge into America’s political divide.
“It’s effectively not a unification. It is a forced re-education and it’s a dangerous path for a president to go down who was rejected by a majority of the states,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.
Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said during a recent event hosted by The Washington Post that the president-elect has been chipping away on his inaugural address through the entire transition — taking time every few days to write and rewrite his thoughts. His speechwriting team is led by longtime Biden collaborator Vinay Reddy.
If Mr. Biden’s speech succeeds in bringing the country together, it would have to happen in virtual reality. Americans will be unable to travel to Washington and forced to view the event on TV or online since the nation’s capital has been mostly shut down.
Mr. Biden’s locked-down inauguration will cap nearly a year of COVID-19 lockdowns across the country.
Once ensconced in the White House, Mr. Biden promises to make a clean break from the Trump era. He plans to quickly issue orders reversing many of Mr. Trump’s executive actions, including on energy, climate change and immigration.
Mr. Biden is expected to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord that Mr. Trump pulled America out of, terminate the travel ban on visitors from some predominately Muslim countries, and revoke a key permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
Mr. Biden also will impose a national mask mandate for federal property and interstate travelers and pause student loan payments.
His inauguration, in many ways, will look like his 2020 campaign and the Democratic Party’s National Convention. It will be celebrated mostly online with a virtual parade and prime-time lineup to be televised and hosted by left-leaning Hollywood celebrities.
Stars such as Jon Stewart, Eva Longoria and Tom Hanks will take part in the historic day.
The virtual parade will feature key entertainment and Hollywood figures as it showcases performances from 56 American states and territories, coined the “Parade Across America.”
“As a nation, we are strengthened by our respect for one another. By lifting up voices from all walks of life, in every corner of our country, we want the first moments of the Biden-Harris administration to be a celebration of an inclusive, resilient, united America,” said Tony Allen, the CEO for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
In keeping with the diversity message, inaugural balls will be held Tuesday night for the Asian American, Black and Latino communities, which will be livestreamed on social media.
The changing of administrations will formally take place Wednesday, but Mr. Biden will set the stage for his administration on Tuesday by holding an event with Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, to honor more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four hundred lights will be lit at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.
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