President Joe Biden’s inaugural ceremony in Washington, D.C. on January 20 came as a great relief.
After four turbulent and chaotic years of Donald Trump’s rollercoaster presidency, the United States finally was turning a corner and returning to a semblance of normalcy.
Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court only two weeks after Trump tacitly encouraged hundreds of right-wing hooligans to invade Capitol Hill in an attempt to interfere with Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory. In effect, this motley mob was shamelessly trying to delay or stop a peaceful transfer of power, a cornerstone of American democracy.
Trump’s legacy will always be associated with, and tarnished by, this unprecedented invasion. Trump’s signature achievements — the competent management of the nation’s finances, the speedy production of the coronavirus vaccine, and the normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries — may well be drowned out by the events of January 6.
Trump’s central role in this disgracefully unique incident prompted the House of Representatives to impeach him for the second time during his four-year term of office. Charged with insurrection, he now faces a trial in the Senate and possible exclusion from running for high office ever again.
Much to his discredit, Trump exacerbated preexisting differences and divisions in American society, all but shattering what remained of the country’s unity. Worse still, he emboldened the white supremacist movement, which seeks to turn back the clock with respect to racial justice and transform America into a racist state.
Dishearteningly, too, the incidence of open and violent antisemitism rose to new, stomach-churning heights in the United States during the Trump era.
Against the grim backdrop of a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans so far and disrupted a vibrant economy, Biden alluded to these themes in his heart-felt and uplifting 21-minute address.
“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days,” he said in recognition of today’s somber realities. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal, and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear and demonization have long torn us apart.”
Without mincing words, Biden — a decent man who comports himself presidentially — denounced “political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism.” These are the triple threats which endanger America and which can only be ignored at its peril. As he correctly said, democracy is a fragile flower, constantly in need of nourishment and protection from malevolent quarters.
Symbolically enough, Biden delivered his speech from the West Front of Capitol Hill, which was momentarily seized by mobs on January 6, truly a day of infamy. But as Biden pointed out, democracy prevailed, and now Americans should try to “end this uncivil war” and work together in peace and harmony to eradicate the pandemic, rebuild and strengthen the economy, confront racism and, in short, heal a wounded nation.
As he suggested, Trump’s supporters — the 75 million Americans who voted for him in last November’s election — can neither be ignored nor dismissed. Their needs, concerns and hopes should be treated with consideration and taken into account.
This is surely a tall order, but definitely not beyond reach. But with 25,000 armed National Guard troops and police having guarded the capital during Biden’s inauguration, one should not underestimate the lamentable state in which America finds itself today.
Yet hope springs eternal, and the possibilities are endless. The beginning of a new presidency should inspire Americans and their friends abroad to believe that sunnier days may lie ahead. But there should be no illusions. The struggle to mould the United States into a better place will require Americans of all political stripes to show goodwill, mutual respect and compromise.