Americans in Manitoba toast a presidency they hope will unite a divided U.S.

Kate Hill broke out the champagne with her mother after November’s U.S. election was called for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

She expects a tamer celebration Wednesday when the new administration is officially ushered into office, but the American living in Brandon, Man., expects the tears, like the champagne before, will flow.

“I will watch it, and I know I will cry,” Hill said. 

The moment she’s anticipating is when Harris, the first female vice-president in American history, takes the oath of office.

“I will cry a lot when she gets sworn in. And I’ll just be very joyous when Biden gets sworn in” as U.S. president, she said.

The inauguration will be appointment viewing worldwide, including in Manitoba.

The transfer of power comes at a tense moment in American history. On Jan. 6, outgoing President Donald Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell” against the outcome of the election. A mob then stormed the Capitol, where his defeat was being confirmed.

The threat of violence looms over Wednesday’s ceremony.

Hill, a staunch Democrat, is hopeful the inauguration will go off without a hitch.

Growing up in North Carolina, a swing state, she understands why scores of voters who feel disenfranchised by politics would vote for Trump, no matter what repulsive things he’s said and done.

Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and president-elect Joe Biden, seen here celebrating their election victory last year in Wilmington, Del., will be sworn in on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

She was worried it would happen again in 2020. She nervously watched election day from her mother’s home in Bismarck, N.D., timing the trip before Manitoba was placed under code red restrictions.

They barely slept the next few days as they watched the non-stop coverage. Hill woke her mother up in the middle of the night to celebrate when Michigan was called for the Democrats.

Once Biden was named the victor, they poured champagne and texted their family and friends.

“I think it was, for a lot of people, a big collective sigh of relief,” said Hill, who quarantined upon her return to Canada.

A turning point

Christopher Schneider, a Brandon University sociology professor who grew up in the Chicago area, wants the inauguration to mark a turning point from an era of racism, violence and misogyny that he says flourished under Donald Trump’s leadership.

“But it’s a tall task, a tall order when you see this type of [politics]”, he said.

The polarization between the Democrats and Republicans is explained, in part, by the importance Americans place on individualism over collectivism, he said. Trump played up the importance of preserving individual sovereignty, and that won’t suddenly dissipate with the pomp of an inauguration. 

“My friends and colleagues, they watch with horror and their brains break because they can’t understand how Americans would vote against their own self-interest, like … universal health care,” Schneider said.

“The short answer is there’s the prevailing belief that it’s going to be an infringement upon individual liberty.”

From his home in Steinbach, Ben Miller did his part to secure Biden’s win.

As acting chairperson of Democrats Abroad Manitoba, he helped make calls to the 240 names on the group’s phone list. He reminded them to mail in their ballot on time.

Despite the turmoil in the States, he’s confident Biden can advance a unifying agenda.

“Joe’s a pretty nice person,” he said. “You can see his care and his pain for what’s going on in the country.”

Thousands of U.S. flags are placed on the National Mall to represent the people unable to travel to Washington for Wednesday’s inauguration. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Brianne Forsyth, who lived in Idaho when she met her future Canadian husband, said the four years of Trump’s administration were hard to watch from a distance. She now resides in Kleefeld, southeast of Winnipeg.

“You feel almost a sense of helplessness not being there and being a part of it, as you’d want to be.”

She hopes the inauguration starts to bridge the divide between the political factions, though the country has a long way to go. Any protests Wednesday are a result of the country’s polarization, she said.

Meanwhile, a former Winnipegger living in Florida is bemoaning the inauguration for what it represents: a new president.

While Nikki Rasnussen doesn’t agree with everything Trump’s done, like his Twitter rants, she appreciates what a businessman brought to the country’s highest office. 

“In the long run, he was really trying to do what was best for us. He just came across the wrong way sometimes,” she said.

Rasnussen said she doesn’t want the Biden administration to clamp down on businesses during the pandemic, since they’ve struggled enough.