Quite a difference between two chilly Wednesdays in January: Under a crystalline Inauguration Day sky and a bunting-draped Capitol, the Marine Band welcomed the 46th president into office with a procession of fanfares — in the same spot that a mob answering the call of the 45th had ransacked the building two weeks earlier to try to stop this transfer of power.
There was no mention of Donald J. Trump, the departed and deplatformed commander in chief who flew out of town early in the morning as the first president in 152 years to refuse to attend the swearing-in of his successor.
Whether or not related to the former president’s absence, a bipartisan lightness seemed to prevail across the stage. Snow flurries gave way to sun and an aura distinctly serene. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and now former Vice President Mike Pence — both close allies of Mr. Trump who broke bitterly with him in his final days — were seen cracking grins, even chuckling with their counterparts in the opposing party.
Supreme Court justices greeted former presidents with elbow bumps and waved to masked members of Congress from several feet away, a literal separation of powers mandated by the pandemic. The rampage on Jan. 6 had brought on uniformed troops clustered in all directions across a Capitol complex otherwise abandoned by civilians. Still, the inauguration felt like a friendly gathering, a small step toward President Biden’s elusive promise of national unity….
The observance evoked a mood of some relief that democracy had indeed triumphed, though not without some anxious moments. There were tributes to the “peaceful transfer of power” along with ever-present reminders that this one hardly was.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious,” Mr. Biden said. “Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Even without the presence of Mr. Trump, perhaps the most striking mark of his legacy was the weary capital he left to his successor. Mr. Biden’s inauguration was the most fortified such gathering in Washington’s history….