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Searching for hope in a capital city under tight security

If there are any silver linings to be found amid the big clouds of bad news, I try to find them, as hard as that might be in a time of terror. Once again our national leaders are telling us that the show must go on or the terrorists win, except this time the show is President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration and the suspected terrorists mostly happen to be our fellow Americans.

As if the coronavirus pandemic didn't give local, state and national officials enough reason to tell visitors to stay home and watch the ceremony on TV, the terror threat added another. Even Airbnb blocked and canceled D.C.-area reservations for the week. 

Instead, as many as 21,000 National Guard members rolled into town, the Military Times reports. That's more than four times the number of U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan and Iraq after recent drawdowns to 2,500 in each of those nations.

Back home, capitals in all 50 states also were put on alert − though planned armed-protests largley did not materialize Sunday − all because of the Jan. 6 attack by angry supporters of President Donald Trump on our iconic U.S. Capitol, a siege that resulted in five deaths and more than 100 arrested and charged, so far.

The usually serene Capitol Hill grounds and the Mall − where the Washington Monument, among other memorials, stand − is now thoroughly militarized, surrounded by 7-foot "non-scalable" fencing.

For days, reporters on the scene have been saying it looks like an "armed camp." No, it is an armed camp, a visible signal of the complex of problems − foreign and domestic − that the incoming president and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will have to confront.

After all, inaugurations are supposed to be about beginnings, a time to ask where we go from here.

Well, where do we go from here? The ramped-up security in the heart of our capital is a painfully visible sign of how, at least, we've got to do better.

First we Americans have some old business to clean up. I don't deny that Democrats had plenty of good reasons to make Trump the first president to be impeached twice, as if we didn't notice the first time. Trump certainly has behaved outwardly as if he didn't notice, even if he is sulking about it inside. But, whether the Senate decides to convict him or not − and chances of that still look like a long shot although not as long as it used to − the more effective punishment might well be for Congress to bar him from running again. 

And polls, for those of us who still believe in them, indicate most other Americans do, too, until you ask his fellow Republicans. A Washington Post-ABC News poll reported the by-now-familiar partisan tilt: Most Americans said the rioters bear responsibility for the attack, while smaller majorities say Trump bears responsibility, and that he should be removed from office and disqualified from serving again. But, here's the partisan tilt. About the same number of Republicans − 85% − believe he should not be barred from public office as Democrats − 89% − believe he should.

It's easy for me to see how he deserves to be barred. His rhetoric in egging on the crowd to march on the Capitol was dangerously careless, at best, and was made worse by his failure to call off the crowd for hours, even as they tore through the Capitol in a deadly riot. Barring him from holding federal office actually would help the healing, in my view, by reducing at least some of the fear he induces in other Republicans.

This could be the first big test of Biden's belief that the nation's great divides need to be bridged and healed and his ability to do it.

Biden's advantage as rising president is something Republicans tried to ridicule in his campaign: His long years of experience with how Washington works. Having worked closely with President Barack Obama on health care and economic stimulus programs, he knows the importance of making a strong start in his first 100 days.

Recognizing the urgency of the fight against COVID-19, he didn't wait until he was sworn in to announce his ambitious $1.9 trillion plan to fight COVID-19 and boost the economy, beginning with the minimum wage.

I wish him luck. After all, regardless of what some Trump supporters might want to believe, as of noon Wednesday he will be the only president that we've got.

Clarence Page's columns are distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.




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