Wednesday, 20th January, 2021

[Day 310]

Today after a somewhat delayed start we wondered whether to brave the elements for our daily walk or not. Instead, we decided to compromise so we took the car down to collect our newspapers and then headed for the park. It was spattering with rain as we are still on the edge of Storm Christoph, which seems to be hitting parts of the North of England more severely. Having got to the park we decided to seek the shelter of the bandstand where, almost alone in the park, we met up with our Birmingham University friend. We braved the wind and rain together, surveying an almost empty park but still glad of a chat with each other. As we had the car, the journey home was relatively swift so we we did not get soaked through which is always a danger.

Today is the day which we thought would never come but here it is at last – the Inauguration Day for Joe Biden to be installed as the 46th President of the United States. Evidently, it was going to be a very different inauguration – for a start, President Trump vacated the White House (without being prised out!) and made his way to the Andrews Air Force base where he was greeted as president for the very last time. After a fairly perfunctory speech he wished the new regime well without referring to the name of his successor by name and eventually to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’ll do it my way!‘ then AirForce 1, the presidential plane, took off for Florida and Mar-a-Lago, the Trump retreat where he stay closeted with members of his family for a while. Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC the inauguration organisers had to make the best of bad job, in the absence of any crowds. So instead of a Mall filled with flag-waving crowds, we now just had the flags placed at strategic intervals but fluttering nicely in the January breeze. The overall effect was visually quite effective. Then we had the arrival of the members of the political elite, principally all the ex-Presidents and their wives. The one exception, for understandable reasons, was Jimmy Carter who is 96, a survivor of both liver cancer and brain cancer, and whose health was too frail even for an inauguration. We had the normal patriotic songs and prayers followed by the swearings-in and the oath of office by Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, then to be followed by the inauguration speech. This was full of appeals to unity (and was in marked contrast to that spoken by Donald Trump four years ago) To my mind, this was quite an effective call for national unity in the face of a raging pandemic, a faltering economy and a democracy whose fragility had been exposed by the invasion of the Capitol Building a fortnight ago, on January 6th. A theme of the Biden speech was that ‘democracy has triumphed‘ which is evidently the case after the earth-shattering events within the last fortnight. Normally, there would be an inauguration ball in the evening after a day full of ceremonies – I suspect that they have decided to cancel this in view of the pandemic. If my memory serves me correctly, Bill Clinton went off and played his saxophone on the occasion of his own inaugural ball years ago. The Biden presidency has started off with three acts of presidential empathy which must have hit the right tone. Last night, he went with Kamala Harris to the Lincoln Memorial, lit by an avenue of lights, and paid tribute to the 40,000 Americans who have died in the pandemic. He then paid tribute to them again in the midst of his presidential address by calling for a moment’s silence where people could offer their thoughts and their prayers for the dead. Finally, he went straight off to the Arlington National Cemetary again to pay tribute to past American heroes (and the burial place of past presidents). I suppose one has to say that if any presidential hopeful was capable of riding the huge divides in the American political life, then Jo Biden as a centrist who has often worked ‘across the aisle’ in the Senate is the best-placed person to do it.

Meanwhile, we have more grim news from the home front. The number of deaths is now at an all-time high of 1,820 (and a total of above 93,000 in total). Just to compound this diet of bad news, it is also a source of concern that the South African variant of COVID may be resistant to the latest vaccines – in time, of course, they could be tweaked like the ‘flu virus but there is still more time for more deadly mutations to arise. Meg and I are still awaiting the call for our vaccination which we suspect may still be at least two weeks off, amidst some reports of shortages of the vaccine in various places (who would have thought that?)