‘Never been more optimistic’: speeches, songs and celebrations cap Biden’s inauguration day –as it happened

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We’re now into the capstone of a secure (thanks to nearly 25,000 national guardsmen), surprisingly smooth inauguration day in Washington: the 90-minute celebrity extravaganza known as Celebrating America, a collection of music performances, tributes to America’s essential workers, and nods to better days ahead.

'Never been more optimistic': speeches, songs and celebrations cap Biden's inauguration day –as it happened
Biden Inaugural Committee
(@BidenInaugural)

We are excited to kick off our Celebrating America program tonight, hosted by @TomHanks! pic.twitter.com/lYWfAkDUtB

January 21, 2021

And there’s no more perfect star to host such an event than Tom Hanks, the beloved everyman actor and one of the few cultural figures on whom most Americans can agree (for a full feel-good summary of Hanks’s legendary, evergreen niceness, please see Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile in the NY Times from 2019).

From Forrest Gump to the heroic pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Saving Private to Mr Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Hanks has built a career on playing ordinary Americans rising to extraordinary occasions, men whose unremarkable decency, resilience and kindness evince extraordinary heroism. (Hanks was also the celebrity whose coronavirus diagnosis on 11 March, 2020 was for many the moment the direness of the pandemic really sank in.)

On screen and off, Hanks tends to immediately impart a sense of security — the future in good hands — through the basic principle of caring for those around you under higher ideals. In a year during which much-lauded but deeply under-supported essential workers have kept the country functioning, for a program designed to impart the Biden administration’s intent to work for all Americans (Trump voters included), there are few cultural figures who could hold the center like Hanks.

Shortly before Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Dave Hayes – a longtime QAnon influencer who goes by the name Praying Medic – posted a photo of dark storm clouds gathering over the US Capitol on the rightwing social media platform Gab. “What a beautiful black sky,” he wrote to his 92,000 followers, appending a thunderclap emoji.

The message was clear to those well-versed in QAnon lore: “the Storm” – the day of reckoning when Donald Trump and his faithful allies in the military would declare martial law, round up all their many political enemies, and send them to Guantánamo Bay for execution by hanging – was finally here. 20 January 2021 wouldn’t mark the end of Trump’s presidency, but the beginning of “the Great Awakening”

Instead, Trump slunk off to Florida and Biden took the oath of office under a clear blue sky. Now QAnon adherents are left to figure out how to move forward in a world that, time and time again, has proven impervious to their fevered fantasies and fascistic predictions. And while some seem to be waking up to reality, others are doubling down, raising concerns among experts that the movement is ripe for even more extreme radicalization.

“My primary concern about this moment is the Q to JQ move,” said Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, referring to “the Jewish question”, a phrase that white nationalists and neo-Nazis use to discuss their antisemitic belief that Jews control the world. Friedberg said that he had seen clear signs that white nationalists and alt-right figures, who have long disliked QAnon because it focused the Maga movement’s energies away from the “white identity movement”, were preparing to take advantage.

“They view this as a great opportunity to do a mass red-pilling,” he said.

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