Washington / Joe Biden was inaugurated Wednesday morning as the 46th US president in a solemn ceremony in which he called for unity to overcome the multiple crises facing the country and proclaimed that “democracy has prevailed” after the chaotic and divisive mandate of Donald Trump.
The ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol – during which Kamala Harris also took the oath of office as vice president, the first woman and person of black and/or Asian origin to occupy that office – was marked by unprecedented levels of security and precautions prompted by Covid-19.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” the 78-year-old Delaware Democrat said. “Today we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause – the cause of democracy.”
“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden told the assembled dignitaries and a small number of invited guests.
The inauguration put an end to the turbulent four years of Trump’s presidency, with the outgoing leader becoming the first president in 152 years not to attend the inauguration of his successor, having flown to Florida aboard Air Force One earlier in the morning.
The inauguration is usually the occasion for large crowds to gather on the National Mall, but Wednesday the expanse in front of the Capitol was filled with flags instead of people, as the mall was closed in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by supporters of now-former President Donald Trump.
Only about 1,000 people – mostly legislators but also former Vice President Mike Pence along with his wife Karen – were allowed to attend the inauguration, rather than the some 200,000 who have regularly attended as invited guests, at least in recent years, the smaller number mandated by gathering restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic and by potential security threats in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by enraged, violent and destructive Trump supporters.
Some 25,000 National Guard troops along with a significant police contingent provided security at the event and throughout the capital.
Three of the five living former presidents were present for the ceremony: Democrats Barack Obama – who Biden served as vice president – and Bill Clinton; and Republican George W. Bush, but concerns about the pandemic kept Democrat Jimmy Carter, 96, from making the trip to Washington.
“I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” Biden said.
“I have just taken a sacred oath each of those patriots has taken. The oath first sworn by George Washington. But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On we, the people, who seek a more perfect union. This is a great nation. We are good people,” the new president said.
Biden acknowledged what he called the “cascading crises” the US is facing.
“We have much to do in this winter of peril and significant opportunities,” he said, noting that Covid-19 has “taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.”
“In my first act as President, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all of those who we lost this past year to the pandemic,” Biden said. “Those 400,000 fellow Americans – moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and coworkers. We’ll honor them and become the people and nation we know we can and should be.”
He also pointed to the economic damage from the pandemic, anger over the absence of racial justice and the political polarization dramatized by the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the rule of the people, to stop democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever! Not ever,” Biden said, in what – despite his remarks about the pandemic and US political divisions – was essentially a speech expressing great optimism, albeit tempered with realism and respect for the challenges facing the country.
“The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” the president vowed. “A cry for survival comes from planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear, and now arise political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”
Biden devoted much of his speech to an appeal for unity, saying that the divided country must end its “uncivil war” between Democrats and Republicans, suggesting that misinformation and “lies” have been at the root of the division and adding that unity is the road Americans must follow together.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” Biden said. “We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this. And I believe America is so much better than this.”
The new president also promised to work just as hard for the people who did not vote for him last Nov. 3 as he will work for those who did.
“We can see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos,” he said.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the UNITED States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together,” the president said.
“I promise you we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era,” Biden said, adding forcefully: “We will rise to the occasion.”
Shortly before Biden was sworn in, Harris took the oath of office as vice president, placing her hand on two Bibles – one belonging to a family friend and the other to the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the US high court and a key figure and role model for the new vice president.
Also featured at the inauguration, during which a few flakes of snow began to fall, was pop singers Lady Gaga, who sang the national anthem, and Jennifer Lopez, who performed “This Land Is Your Land,” which has become a sort of national, patriotic and anti-fascist hymn.
The final act at the inauguration was the recitation by 22-year-old black poet Amanda Gorman, who is the youngest person ever to deliver a poem at a US presidential inauguration, of a moving poem she wrote herself in recent days titled “The Hill We Climb.”
The words to the poem included: “Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” and “We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
Gorman’s poem ends with the words: “A new dawn looms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.” (January 20, 2021, EFE/PracticaEspañol)
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