The American Presidency is an odd institution. Partially political, partially ceremonial and more than a bit symbolic. At the Founding, George Washington was reportedly offered the kingship of the new American nation. He turned it down and became the first President. But there are elements to the American Presidency which owe more to the idea of kings than the ideals of democracy.
The bow tie brigade is fond of pointing out that the United States is a Republic rather than a democracy and, to a degree, they are right. The founders were not especially enamoured with democracy. They saw the states as having most of the power and designed a system in which Senators were appointed by their state and the Electoral College was a deliberative body appointed by the states as well. The Senate arrangements were striped away by the 17th Amendment and the Electoral College has evolved into a rubber stamp. But there remains a sense that the Presidency transcends the hurley burley of partisan politics. “Respect for the Office” if not the incumbent, was an important, non-partisan, American value.
This all changed with the advent of Donald Trump. From well before his election, the American establishment, Democrat and Republican refused to accept The Donald as America’s President. They spied on him, ran the phony Russian collusion investigation, impeached him for suggesting that the Ukrainians investigate Joe Biden and his errant son Hunter, impeached him again for so-called “incitement” and generally refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of his election. The political and media establishment were perfectly willing to trash the Office in their lust to get the man.
Which is why the Biden Inauguration is being held behind 30,000 troops and 12 foot high, razor wire topped fences. This defensive perimeter is not required to fend off irate Trump supporters furious at what they believe was a stolen election. Rather it is required to add some mystique to a doddering, corrupt little man who is being installed as President.
As I remarked to a friend, Presidential campaigns with their rallies and speeches and debates and endless travel are, as the Biden “victory” proves, entirely superfluous to ballot harvesting in a mass media age. In terms of votes a two million dollar ad buy is more valuable than a campaign tour whistle stop. However, campaigns, actual campaigns, serve another purpose: they connect the candidate to actual Americans and, more importantly, Americans to the candidates. Trump established a connection to millions of Americans who voted for him and millions who did not. Biden did not.
Apparently over 80 million Americans cast their votes for Biden. Yet in a deeply Democrat city surrounded by blue states, instead of worrying about how to deal with huge crowds of supporters, the Biden Inauguration is in a defensive crouch.
Now assorted commentators point to the rally of January 6 with a million well behaved Trump supporters and a couple of thousand yahoos as necessitating the security measures. There is no strong evidence that Trump supporters have or had any intention of attacking the Biden Inauguration. No doubt more than a few might have shown up to heckle the man, but that is simple democracy and no threat.
The fact is that Biden’s total lack of campaigning has left him without any connection to Americans. People did not vote for Joe Biden, rather they voted against Donald Trump.
Those 80+ million people (assuming that they actually exist and actually voted) would, normally, have given Biden a mandate, a popular endorsement. However, because Biden did not campaign, took no unscripted questions, didn’t bother to travel much, his mandate, the endorsement of his voters, is very fragile. The current security theatre in Washington is an attempt to buttress Biden’s claim to the Presidency, or rather the legitimacy of that claim.
I very much doubt it will work.