Joe Biden highlighted the importance of his second in command, Kamala Harris, in his speech: “Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
The United States said goodbye to the Donald Trump era and started a new phase with the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House. The Democrat became president this Wednesday in front of the same Capitol that was only two weeks ago invaded, and he called for Americans to “unite,” especially during such a turbulent time in history. In an uncommonly emotional ceremony, clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic and by extraordinary security measures, Biden condemned violence, praised the victory of democracy and called upon the people to “start afresh.” It was a purifying speech, on a day for the history books. Kamala Harris is the first woman to be sworn into the office of vice president of the most powerful country in the world.
Shortly before noon (2 p.m. in Brasilia), with his hand over the same Bible on which he pledged his oath as a senator in 1973, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. (born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 78 years old) was sworn into the job he always dreamed of. He is the 46th president of the United States, the second Catholic president in history (after John Fitzgerald Kennedy), the oldest to hold office and a politician who only a year ago was deemed defeated. He is the man who was able to unite the Democrats against Trump and will have the mission of rescuing the nation from a very dark moment.
“We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” stated the new president in a 25-minute inaugural address whose tone was marked by the grave moment the country now lives. He only briefly mentioned politics and the plans and programs he intends to implement. He did not mention Trump, preferring to focus his message on the values and recovery of the American spirit, which he defined as one of unity and struggle.
The president also paid homage to his vice president and the struggle of women’s voting rights in the country. “Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protestors tried to block brave women from marching for the right to vote. Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office — Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
Biden, who millions of Americans, instigated by Trump, accuse of stealing the election, insisted on the urgent need “for the truth.” This insistence, as was the speech’s overall idea — leaving behind a period of war and trauma — transmitted a certain air of hope, but was, more importantly, a call back to Gerald Ford’s words when he took office in 1974 after Richard Nixon’s resignation due to the Watergate scandal: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
The United States is a country that was founded on rebellion against a monarchy, but with presidential rites straight from nobility; the day of the presidential inauguration is one of the greatest affirmation marks, a grand ceremony, with a triumphant and optimistic air to it. This year, it was clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken 400,000 lives in the country over the past year, and by the political polarization that forced the Capitol into lockdown and was crystallized by the absence of the outgoing president. Instead of hundreds of thousands of citizens who usually join the inauguration live at the National Mall, the great green field sported a sea of flags in respect to those who have died, in addition to the approximately 25,000 National Guard troops protecting the streets.
With the end of Trump’s term, the United States is transmitting the message that populist movements that have grown in recent years across the world are starting to fade. The violent invasion of the Capitol only two weeks ago, incited by the president himself and his lies, also sends a message that the division remains. Trump, breaking with an over century-long tradition, avoided accompanying his successor and left the city early in the morning, proud and still in the capacity of president, to fly for the last time on the presidential plane, Air Force One and land in his safe haven of Florida.
Nonetheless, it was a day of hope for at least half of the country, exhausted after four bitter years, and also for the rest of the world. Especially for America’s traditional allies, to whom Barack Obama’s vice president promised America’s return to the world stage after a nationalist shift driven by his Republican predecessor. The new administration will inherit a country in a level of recession not seen in 70 years and with debt levels similar to those during World War II.
“To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America,” Biden stated. “Let us start afresh. All of us. Let us listen to one another,” he insisted. Biden promised to “lead by example,” which was made clear by his using a mask during the entire ceremony and by the speech’s conciliatory tone.
Four difficult years have passed in this country’s life; limits were destroyed, the foundations of its institutions and of democracy were tested. The citizens witnessed their president fraternize with the worst dictators in the world, throw packages of paper towels at victims of a hurricane and speak of the “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in 2017. Trump’s fall to hell began with the pandemic. He first persisted in denial and then in extravagance. When he lost the election, he launched his last challenge to the system by trying to revert the results through lies. Over half of Republican voters still believe them. This Wednesday, Trump already finds himself in Florida as former president, and Biden in the White House. The United States now starts the long road toward reconciliation.