Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP

Commander in Chief Joe Biden Swears In

The 46th president took the oath on a tense Washington day amid a lingering pandemic and massive security, but no public crowds or Donald Trump.

In the end, it was mercifully uneventful.

President Joe Biden was quietly sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday in a city criss-crossed by eight-foot metal gates topped with barbed wire and swarming with tens of thousands of National Guardsmen, many of whom carried unloaded M-4 rifles across their camouflage chests. 

In brief remarks from the inauguration stand in front of the Capitol, Biden declared the day a victory for American democracy and affirmed that his “whole soul” was committed to the cause of reuniting a fractured country. 

“The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded,” Biden said. “At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” 

But, he warned, “Without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury” — and that “America has to be better than this.”

The stand on which Biden stood was last seen on televisions across America swarmed with hundreds of furious Trump supporters, waving blue campaign flags and violently beating Capitol Police officers in an attempt to storm the building. Biden took the oath exactly two weeks after the previous president, Donald Trump, incited an outraged mob of his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the results of the election that he lost. 

But on Wednesday, with most of the city’s downtown and National Mall area closed to foot traffic, just a handful of spectators could be seen milling around the fortified Capitol. A few valiant street vendors tried in vain to hawk inauguration-themed hats and tee-shirts to a crowd made up mostly of journalists, as icy gusts of wind blew through Washington. Shortly after Biden arrived, it began to spit snow in downtown Washington. 

In the intervening weeks since the Capitol assault, House Democrats — joined by a handful of Republicans — impeached Trump for the second time, while thousands of Guardsmen poured into the city to turn the symbols of American government into a militarized fortress. Law enforcement officials scrambled to identify and arrest the rioters, whose rampage on Jan. 6 left five people dead, and to answer the twin questions on everyone’s mind: How could this have happened at the U.S. Capitol? And will it happen again on Jan. 20? 

By Wednesday morning, the nation’s capital was in lockdown. Major bridges into the city were closed, metro stations were shuttered, and a perimeter was set up around the U.S. Capitol complex that forced D.C. residents trying to traverse the city to navigate an ever-shifting puzzle of Borgesian security barricades that seemed to move at random. Officials called it “the Green Zone” — a jarring echo of the physical center of the American occupation in Iraq, another highly-fortified Green Zone, in Baghdad. 

Nerves were raw. The man who placed two pipe bombs on Jan. 6 outside of the DNC and the RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill remains at large and on Monday, a small fire at a homeless encampment caused the Capitol to abruptly go on lock down for 45 minutes. Just hours before Biden was scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday, the Supreme Court received a bomb threat, and within minutes was given the all-clear. 

But at least as of his swearing in, and even amid ongoing and apocalyptic threats on right-wing social media forums, the peace seems to have held in Washington, D.C.

The former vice president and his wife Dr. Jill Biden began their day at Blair House, the president’s official guest house near the White House. Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, left the city early without welcoming his successor, as is customary — a gentle symbol of the peaceful transfer of power until this year.

Following his swearing in, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses will visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, then ride to the White House across an eerily silent city from which the American people were effectively locked out.

Biden almost immediately turns to the business of governing. He is expected to sign a host of executive orders on Wednesday night, many of them targeted at undoing some of the most controversial pieces of Trump’s executive legacy. Biden will order a halt on border wall construction, end the so-called “travel ban” that restricts travel from several Muslim-majority nations, rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and rejoin the World Health Organization, among others

At the Pentagon, Biden staffers are expected to be in place and on their way to their offices at 12:01 pm, said Trump’s Pentagon press secretary Jonathan Hoffman, on Tuesday. At the White House as well, dozens of staffers for Biden’s National Security Council reportedly also are expected to be in place by the end of the afternoon.

Biden also vowed to repair U.S. alliances and “engage with the world again” as “a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security."

Officials have twisted themselves into pretzels to avoid acknowledging the obvious: that Biden had been sworn into office in a militarized zone — a distinctly unpeaceful transfer of power. Reporters were not allowed to wear body armor or any other personal protective equipment inside the green zone, despite ongoing concerns that members of the press remain a target of far-right extremists who had vowed to disrupt Biden from taking the oath. An early effort to limit the number of news outlets in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was blamed on concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic — with no mention made of the security situation, and after ten months in which the Capitol has remained open to all journalists with a valid pass. 

“Our institutions were tested this year and our institutions passed the test,” former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. “I'm here out of respect for the peaceful transfer of power and for the institutions and what – what, Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president of the united states and I'm here to honor this process.”