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Residents look for hope and pray against violence on Inauguration Day

Voters from throughout the region weighed in on their expectations for Inauguration Day and what message they think President-elect Joe Biden should deliver.

The Day connected with about 70 readers who agreed to participate in our election coverage this year through the use of Hearken, a platform that helps media engage with their audiences. This is the sixth time that readers have answered a series of election-related questions posed by The Day.

The vast majority of respondents felt there would be some level of political violence on Wednesday but said there would likely be a proper response from law enforcement this time. Many said if there are demonstrations, violent or not, they will likely be muted.

As for what they want from Biden, most said they welcome a positive message about Americans’ commonalities.

Inauguration day

Old Lyme Democrat Michael Gaffey is optimistic about the inauguration, saying it would introduce “a renewed spirit of optimism” in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Susan Menghi, a Waterford Democrat, agrees. “I'm expecting everyone to be guarded because of the recent violence, but also hopeful because we are turning a new leaf over for our country and can hopefully clean up the mess the last four years have created,” she said.

Robert Chew, a Mystic Democrat, also asked that the inauguration offer some sense of hope. “I hear it will be a no-crowd affair. Somber, what with all the soldiers around,” he said. “I do hope they are able to make it a hopeful occasion nevertheless. I think they will.”

New London Republican Suzanne Simpson said she expects “compromise” for the inauguration. “I believe, as in any relationship, finding compromise is the key to getting things done,” she said. “The division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has to change.”

Waterford Democrat Bill Sheehan said he thinks the inauguration will be smooth, “but there will be a large number of troops around, not the usual party atmosphere for an inauguration.”

Others simply stated that they expect to see Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris inaugurated into the offices they were elected to. Some, such as Democrat Ed Pellegri of Waterford, said they’re expecting violence.

“Unfortunately there will be more mob violence in D.C. kept in check by law enforcement,” he said. “However, there may also be violence in some states that 'swung' to Biden such as Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia and the rust belt.”

Possibility of violence

Gaffey and other respondents said that if there is violence in D.C. or nationwide on Wednesday, it won’t have as big an impact as it did on Jan. 6, and it will be inspired by baseless claims of election fraud or that Biden somehow stole the election.

“I think any violence will be minimal as the vast majority of participants in sacking the Capitol building are cowards who drew courage from numbers and have trumped-up excuses as to why they will not return,” Gaffey said. “Any violence will be from those provoked by the vile lies of an ‘election steal,’ or inconsistencies of election rules, despite (states') rights to dictate those rules. Some cannot return to reality from chaos, and they may provoke deadly confrontation.”

Pellegri said the possibility of violence stems from the fact that “this may be the last hurrah for some of these military and white supremacy extremist groups.”

“They will go out with a bang, which will create justified backlash, which will finally be their undoing, in addition to not having an enabler at the head of the country,” he continued.

Linda Hinz, an unaffiliated voter from New London, said she believes there will be attempts at violence and prays they will be unsuccessful.

“I feel that the Capitol insurrection was the tragic wake up call for Democrats, less-radical Republicans, and security forces to fully understand the depth of danger posed by these thugs,” Hinz said. “With the added security measures in place, I would guess that the majority of the violence will be at the state capitols and it may very well continue through, even past, inauguration day. I don't believe this attitude, this radicalism, will go away quickly or easily.”

Susan Menghi echoed the sentiments of other respondents when she said “hopefully there will be enough of police and special forces present to thwart any attempts at violence.”

Related story: On eve of inauguration, Norwich faith leaders pray for peace and healing

Lawmakers have called for an investigation into the U.S. Capitol’s security because on Jan. 6, rioters breached the building with relative ease. 

“I think that the chances for something happening are greater in the state capitols than in Washington,” Chew said. “There's reason to expect that whatever violent gestures arise will be few and quickly smothered due to the preparations in DC and the state capitols ... not to say that there won't be a noisy ruckus here and there.”

Sheehan said he thinks the presence of a large number of troops will discourage violence. “My one worry is ‘a lone shooter with a long range rifle’ who is able to get a bead on the then-president during his Inaugural Address and shoot before anyone is able to stop him/her,” he added.

Norwich Democrat Bill Kenny said he has “no doubt there will be threats of violence from those with inchoate, inarticulate rage, angry because their false hopes, fueled by falsehoods, betrayed and deceived them. I only hope the necessary force to halt them will be deployed against them.”

At the very least, “We think there is a likelihood of violence,” Groton Democrat Anthony Skiff said.

Simpson was the only respondent to offer a flat “no” when asked if she thought there would be violence on Wednesday.

Biden’s message

Groton Democrat Conrad Heede said he’d like to see a Biden message about renewing not only “America’s commitment to civic involvement and community participation, but also a renewal of manners and respect.”

“If we are all in this together, then we need to learn how to treat each other better, from the cashier to the airline attendant to people who look different and especially those less fortunate,” Heede said.

Gaffey said Biden should and will offer “a deep compassion for those afflicted with sickness or poverty by the COVID battle,” and that he will get away from the sometimes bombastic and malicious rhetoric in favor of truth and speaking to the common good.

Menghi was on the same page, saying she hoped Biden would return the office of the presidency to a place of repute with his remarks. She also said he should highlight the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. “Violence should never be tolerated regardless of which side it comes from,” she said. “It should never have become okay to hurt other humans and to riot and destroy public property regardless of how somebody feels about a particular issue. We need to show the impressionable young people of this nation that it is not okay for anyone, especially a leader, to approve of violence.”

Chew said that while he thinks Biden is a good man and will make a good president, he isn’t always the most compelling orator. Still, he looks forward to a more welcoming message from the new president. “I hope he does deliver a vision of equality of opportunity, diversity, and constructive international engagement in down-to-earth terms,” Chew said. “He'll no doubt plead for unity, but I do hope he manages to do it without somehow falling into these bland tropes that seem to treat disunity as some sort of event of nature, or merely some sort of failure to 'listen' to each other.”

Sheehan said Biden should toe the fine line between idealism and realism. “While Congress is dealing with impeachment along with appointment confirmations and COVID relief, the president will have to deliver a message of hope tinged with a realistic evaluation of the situation,” he said. “I am sure that President Biden and his speechwriters know how to do that.”

Hinz made a similar point, saying Biden needs to strike a balance between firm and calming. She said he should make an appeal to President Donald Trump's supporters. “He needs to speak directly to these Americans as Americans that have been disenfranchised so that he has a chance to regain their trust,” Hinz said. “He needs to speak of swift consequences for those that acted violently or knowingly lied to mislead others to act violently so he can be sure that the rest of America is not disenfranchised by letting a coup attempt go unpunished.”

Simpson said she would like Biden to double down on what she saw as Trump’s successes. “Since I didn't vote for (Biden) and his policies, I would hope that he would commit to what Trump was so successful with,” she said. “Trump loved America, its history and the American people.”

Kenny tried his hand at speechwriting for Biden when asked what the president-elect’s message should be: “Our world is too large, and our nation too complex, for fear of others and of the change that interacting with new and different people produces to keep us prisoners within our own lives,” he said. “We can only grow by giving ourselves to others and to causes bigger than ourselves. We can build back better for ourselves, our families and our nation, starting today and continuing everyday.”

Pellegri said Biden needs to emphasize America’s fundamental ideals with his message.

“This a country for the people and of the people, not for the extremists, the loudest or the richest,” he said. “More importantly, we must build trust back into the government along with truth and dignity.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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