Today will be a day that goes down in history. Any inauguration stays in the history books, but this one is different. Donald Trump is not attending the inauguration, nor did he welcome Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, to the White House, as is customary. Still, Mike Pence did attend the inauguration.
COVID-19 means that the usually packed steps of the Western front of the Capitol, stormed by insurrectionists two weeks ago today, are sparse in order to maintain social distancing. The usual throngs of thousands of people on the national mall are not there, due to COVID-19 and security measures. Instead, there are 400,000 flags to mark the number of Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 thus far. The new president and vice-president sworn in surrounded by 25,000 national guardsmen, as opposed to thousands upon thousands of their fellow citizens.
Joe Biden will be the oldest president in history, at the age of 78. Jill Biden, now the first lady, will be the first to maintain a job while holding that office. She is a community college professor. Kamala Harris will be the first female, Black and South Asian vice-president. Her husband, Douglas Emhoff, will be the first second-gentleman. The incoming cabinet, now enduring the regular Senate confirmation hearings, will also be historic in its diversity. An administration, as Joe Biden promised, that will truly represent America.
The shift in tone of this incoming administration is remarkable. Long have we been adjusted to the narcissistic circus that has inhabited the White House for the past four years, that we have forgotten what it is like to have an American president who is indeed presidential. Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have spoken eloquently and competently in recent days, along with their cabinet nominees, while turning the focus of the media back to the American people. The most obvious example was the national memorial for COVID-19 victims organized by the Biden-Harris inaugural committee on the eve of the inauguration.
The morning of Jan. 20 started with a marked difference. Joe Biden waited until Trump left D.C. before going to church, out of respect for the office of the president. Trump left after having a rally-like sending off at Andrews Airforce Base, where he rambled about his presidency. He ended with the truly inspiring words of “have a nice life, we’ll see you soon,” prior to walking up the steps to Air Force one for the last time to the tune of Y.M.C.A. If that isn’t a metaphor for his presidency, I don’t know what is. Meanwhile, Biden and Harris, and their partners, went to church alongside congressional leadership from both parties. A chance to set a tone of bipartisanship.
Note as well that Trump, as is custom, left a letter in the oval office for President Biden. It is still unclear as to what he wrote in that letter. Mike Pence also left a letter on his desk for Vice President Harris.
The inauguration began just after 11 a.m. ADT, with remarks from members of the inaugural committee, an invocation and a powerful performance of the national anthem by none other than Lady Gaga. The pledge of allegiance was recited by a firefighter, a woman of colour, who delivered it in English and ASL simultaneously. This was followed by the oath of office, to swear in Kamala Harris as vice-president, which was administered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latin American justice to serve on the supreme court of the United States. “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” were then performed by Jennifer Lopez. Chief Justice John Roberts then administered the oath of office to Joe Biden, to officially make him the 46th President of the United States.
President Biden then gave his inaugural address. He gave a message that acknowledged the difficult state in which the U.S. now is but highlighting the hope that lays ahead. He spoke of racial justice and urged to take action on climate change and combat nationalism and white extremism. His focus to restore the soul of America provided a message of unity for the nation.
“My whole soul is in it,” he said, to unify the nation. “We can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”
He acknowledged the issues his administration faces, like racial injustice, are not new and that American history is steeped in struggle. He turned to focus that the struggle goes on, and that “unity is the path forward.”
“Politics does not have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” he said in calling for mutual respect and understanding among the American body politic, highlighting the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the women’s suffrage movement, to the election of Kamala Harris, to show how far America has symbolically come.
“I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did,” Biden said. He spoke of higher ideals to be strived for, including the restoration of the value of the truth and the need for its defense.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits citizens against each other,” the president exclaimed. “We will get through this together … the world is watching.”
He also reassured the global community by saying that they would restore their alliances, and lead by example. Joe Biden also called for a moment of silence for COVID-19 victims.
“We face an attack on democracy and on truth,” Biden said while highlighting the tests the U.S. currently faces.
He ended with a message of hope and said his administration would do their best and the citizens should too, so that in future, we will look back and see that in a trial of difficulty, their effort preserved the nation.
“So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to those tasks of our time,” President Biden concluded.
Garth Brooks then performed “Amazing Grace.” America’s first-ever Youth Poet-Laureate, Amanda Gorman, performed a powerful piece titled “The Hill We Climb,” focused on unity in our time, that is sure to go down in history.
A benediction was then given, which also gave a message of unity and rediscovery of common understanding and our common humanity. So, the inauguration ended.
As the Biden-Harris administration begins, on day one they are expected to issue roughly 17 executive orders to reverse some of the actions of Trump. These orders include a mandatory requirement to wear masks on federal property, installing a COVID-19 response coordinator, rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, halting the exit of the U.S. from the WHO, ending the “Muslim ban,” halting further funding to the border wall, cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and many other actions. The Biden administration has announced that President Biden’s first call to a foreign leader will be to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The work of the American people begins today. The Biden-Harris administration has the most difficult task, arguably, of any administration ever on day one. COVID-19 rages on, a racial reckoning is occurring, the wealth gap is widening, far-right extremism and white nationalism are growing and the essence of the truth is at question for many Americans. We, the citizens of the world, can only wish them well, and hope for the restoration and strengthening of America’s soul.