Opinion

The country Joe Biden is inheriting

The dawning of the age of Aquarius it is not

Long before the morning, the flags were laid out, row upon row as far not as the eye can see but as the frame extends: blue, pink, red, blue, white, pink, blue, orange, white, blue, red, in their teeming millions. A hundred blue lights shining forth into the heavens. A spectacle, a repudiation of a movement against the disgraced emperor, and, very likely, everything the man himself dreamed of. Armored cars on K Street. Barricades. Barbed wire seven feet high around the totems of power. Threats vaguely defined but, we are told, everywhere, at least until the adoption of the new security law — here is the Party of Order dedicating its new temple to authority. No word on when the newspapermen get their jobs back. Something, or nothing, will happen. The continued maintenance of gross domestic product; or, as the text messages from relatives announce with what can no longer be even described as confidence that someone — Mr. Potato Head, My Little Pony, MyPillow.com — will usher in the counterrevolution. No universal love here or even being loved alone. The dawning of the age of Aquarius it is not.

Biden's inauguration is set to take place in a Washington that is reminiscent of Children of Men: armored cars, steel barriers, guns, masked and sign-toting lunatics, total social stratification, a city divided into zones. It is, in a sense, the only city that could be the capital of the nation to whose presidency he is about to succeed.

America is a country in which nearly 75 million people have become suspected insurrectionists in roughly the amount of time it took a man in a Viking costume to have a polite conversation with a Capitol police officer. It is a country of the unemployed and the agoraphobic, the medicated and the addicted, the credentialed and the indebted, the half educated and those who have been totally abandoned by what remained of the educational establishment; ours is the first obese health-obsessed monomaniacal attention-deficit society, the first one whose most basic organizing principle is arithmetic. We worship symbols and invent consensuses around them that we collectively discard at a moment's notice alongside our opponents as a kind of ritual dance. Half of our citizens solemnly avow that the last election was a thinly disguised coup, abetted by foreign powers, as two loosely defined factions compete for the privilege of compelling the other to declaim various untruths.

It is, in other words, very much the country inherited by his predecessor four years ago. This is perhaps the most spectacular thing about Donald Trump and his legacy. The president whose world-historic iniquities have accumulated on cable television has proven to be inconsequential. The artifacts of his administration will disappear, leaving no traces save for the marginal tax rates that will continue to be enjoyed by the world's wealthiest corporations and in the resigned faces of supporters who shake their heads at the prospect of another four years of cannibalistic pedophile vampires ruling the world and check what time the Bills game is on.

Not since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has a new president believed himself in possession of such a secure mandate. But unlike the one ostensibly given to George W. Bush 20 years ago, Biden's moral authority extends no further than Democratic partisans and their allies in the media establishment, corporate boardrooms, and, of course, the Pentagon. Poll after poll reveals that Trump's supporters continue to agree with him about everything, including when it contradicts their own previously stated views.

Biden's policy toward social conservatives and economic progressives alike is one of scorched earth. There is no indication that he intends to rule prudently or to restrain his frenetic supporters. Even if he wished to do so, it is unlikely that his influence would extend into the areas of modern life of which he is utterly ignorant. If online payment processing services were suspended tomorrow for every American who has ever tweeted "Stop the Steal," he would advise them to carry cash.

The presence of impenetrable barriers and thousands of armed National Guardsmen makes the likelihood of violence on Wednesday vanishingly low. But the underlying divisions that would otherwise have made it possible will not go away. Neither, one suspects, will the barbed wire.

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