Though it was hardly peaceful, it was a transition — an essential transition after four years of tumult capped by an insurrection led by the outgoing president to stop Congress from certifying his successor's election. The historic proportions of President Joe Biden's inauguration cannot be overstated, and not just for the deadly Jan. 6 assault on democracy that started on the very Capitol overlook where Wednesday's ceremony occurred. America also broke the thickest of glass ceilings with Wednesday's inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first woman — the first Black and South Asian woman — as vice president.
It was also a day of stark contrasts as most Americans celebrated not just a fresh start but also the departure in disgrace of the most divisive U.S. president in history. The most telling symbol of Donald Trump's disgrace was the decision by his own vice president, Mike Pence, not to see him off but rather to attend Biden's ceremony. It was an act of true class by Pence, a man who tried his best for four years to defend an administration that, ultimately, he could no longer defend after Trump unleashed a mob that shouted, "Hang Mike Pence!"
Biden's inaugural speech reflected the damage and challenges Trump left in his wake, including what Biden labeled "this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal." The new president not only must tackle longstanding challenges of climate change, immigration issues and encroachment by America's enemies but also the resurgence of white supremacists and domestic terrorists. Biden was emphatic that the Jan. 6 assault failed because people of both parties stood unified to ensure attempts to subvert American democracy would never succeed, "not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever!"
Biden's ability to tamp down the lingering tensions and cultivate unity will depend on his ability to deliver on this line of his speech: "I will fight just as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did."
Also noteworthy was Biden's message to the rest of the world. After four years of U.S. foreign policy consisting of threats, insults and bullying, Biden declared that the nation would resume its status as a beacon and "leading force for good in the world." Americans would "lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example," he said.
Reminders of the ongoing impact of Trump's assault on democracy and gross mismanagement were everywhere: Thousands of National Guard troops ringed the entire National Mall to protect dignitaries from a possible new attack. The mall itself was empty of humans for security and pandemic-safety reasons. Instead, thousands of U.S. flags waved in the breeze to commemorate the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans from the coronavirus.
Three of the four previous presidents attended, but not Trump. He never defended democracy and never took the pandemic seriously enough to lead Americans with such basic survival steps as telling them to wear a mask. He became the first president to not attend his successor's Capitol Hill inauguration since Andrew Johnson, a fellow one-term incumbent who also left in disgrace after being impeached. Good riddance. It's a new day in America.
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