They're here. The Republicans have arrived to take over in Washington.
On inauguration weekend, Metro stations were overrun with nervous-looking white people in suits and furs, hurrying to parties to celebrate Bush's ascendancy.
The police rolled out a security apparatus tighter than the recent crackdowns at WTO protests and the political conventions. But still, signs of protest were visible even inside the gated areas reserved for ticket -holders during the swearing-in.
One man carrying a sign that read "The Emperor Has No Clothes"--with the word "Emperor" crossed out and the word "Executioner" written in--managed to push to the front of a well-heeled group, some of whom were smoking cigars, on the Capitol lawn. He stood there a few minutes, before a couple of men in ties wrestled the sign away from him and pushed him toward the exit.
As the Republicans cheered the President's speech, the distant sound of boos and chanting, along with police sirens and whirring helicopters, intruded. Police clashed with protesters and cracked heads in nearby Freedom Square during the pious invocations from the podium on the Capitol steps.
Bush praised the ritual of a peaceful, democratic transfer of power, he extolled civility, tolerance, and the progress of a nation that once supported slavery and is now a defender of civil rights. But along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House, protesters held up signs that declared the election "unfair" and "undemocratic." A few black faces in a sea of white parade-goers held up placards that said "Hail to the Theif" and "Not MY President" and "Majority for Gore." At one point, the protesters' presence caused the Presidential limo to speed up, and Secret Service broke into a run.
Putting their blinders on, and looking resolutely ahead, many Republican celebrants managed to keep the signs from dampening the mood.
But the divisiveness of the election, and the irony of a democratic ritual that left half the country muttering that the Presidency was forced on an unwilling electorate, made it hard to keep up the facade.
The guest of honor at one Hotel Washington corporate hospitality suite overlooking the parade was Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State, who helped push for an end to a recount many thought would have turned the election the other way. Harris was greeted like a celebrity by the lobbyists, lawyers, and Republican politicians. With her steely smile and willful disregard of the maelstrom of public condemnation whirling around her, she is a posterchild for the spirit of the new regime: Onward Christian soldiers. Democracy be damned.
Ruth Conniff is the Washington Editor of The Progressive