WASHINGTON – In the end, inauguration triumphed over the uprising.
President Biden’s plea for national unity in his inaugural address on Wednesday was based on the belief that America can return to a time when “enough of us have come together to move us forward. ”
It was a call to restore the usual discord in democracy with the reminder that “politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire that destroys everything in its path”. The words became all the more powerful when delivered from the same steps at the entrance to the Capitol where a violent attack two weeks ago shocked the nation to realize how far some Americans would go to overturn the results of a Democratic election.
Mr Biden’s inauguration was notable for its normality, and the sense of relief that permeated the capital as an era of constant turmoil and falsehood ended. Even so, he takes office amid so many interlocking national trauma that it is still unclear whether he can convince enough of the nation to step into a new era together to overcome the partisan divisions that make the wearing of masks one Have made political act to gain acceptance tens of millions of Americans who believed a lie that the presidency was stolen in ways that have never been clarified.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is hardly the first president to take office in a moment of national despair and division. Lincoln, whose inauguration was suspended for fear of violence, was faced with a country erupting into civil war. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in his third term when Mr. Biden was born, faced a depressed nation with “Hoovervilles” in the shadow of the Capitol.
While Mr. Biden has not faced a single crisis of the same magnitude, he made it clear – without making the comparison in full – that none of his predecessors faced such a terrifying series of simultaneous trials.
He listed them: a devastating pandemic that killed more Americans in a year than the nation lost in World War II (he could have added Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan), an economic downturn that brought about “unemployment and hopelessness” brought. one crisis of racial justice and another of climate and, for tens of millions of Americans, a breakdown in their belief in democracy itself.
Finally, he argued, the American cure would require an end to partisan delusion and the era of alternative facts.
He never referred to President Donald J. Trump, but he spoke clearly of him – and the 140+ Republicans in Congress who voted not to confirm the election results despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud – when he said: We have to reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even produced. “
Mr Biden’s presidency is based on a wager that it is not too late to “end this civil war”. Even some of his most ardent supporters and agents, a generation or younger than him, wonder whether his call for Americans to listen to one another “not as adversaries but as neighbors” comes too late.
“Like Lincoln, Biden comes to power at a time when the country is torn between conflicting visions of reality and identity,” said Jon Meacham, the president’s historian who has occasionally advised and contributed to Mr. Biden’s inaugural address .
“Too many Americans have been falsely told that the 2020 election was somehow stolen,” he said. “The challenge – and opportunity – of the new president is to insist that facts and truths guide us. That you cannot agree with your opponent without de-legitimizing that opponent’s place in the Republic. “
Mr Biden’s speech was about restoring the world that existed in America where he grew up, from the civil rights and Vietnam clashes to the cultural wars that came in the last election. It is the argument of a 78-year-old who has witnessed tragedy after tragedy in public and, in reverse order, assumed the manner of a statesman before returning to the campaign as a politician.
But what millions of Americans hear as a heartfelt appeal to restore order, millions of others believe they are masking a deep partiality or naivety about what has happened to America in the past four or 20 years.
Beyond the call for unity, Mr Biden’s speech was littered with phrases designed to rekindle these arguments.
His references to the “sting of systemic racism,” “white supremacy,” and “domestic terrorism,” and his insistence that the climate crisis is one of the nation’s greatest threats, should signal whatever the progressive side of his party The case was viewed him as too conservative and cautious that new priorities have arrived.
But they are also triggers for those who oppose him: It was only on Tuesday, his last full day in office, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a broadside on Twitter silencing the president against “alertness, multiculturalism, all of that – Isms – they are not who America is. “
Jan. 20, 2021, 3:30 p.m. ET
Mr. Biden planned his inauguration to explain the opposite, that it is modern America.
And his anticipated actions in his first days in office – the resumption of the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization, the promise to find a route to citizenship for 11 million immigrants and re-enter the Iranian nuclear deal – are intended to reinforce that point.
He combined this with a warning to American opponents who had spent the past four years, especially 2020, filling power vacuums around the world as America counted its dead and took to the streets.
Mr Biden warned them not to mistake the noise of the past four years for weakness.
“America was tested, and we came out stronger for it,” he said, promising to “fix our alliances and reconnect with the world.”
But he never once mentioned the country that has been challenging American supremacy the longest – China – or one of the less challenging challengers trying to disrupt, build, or undercut the United States by manipulating its computer networks using social media.
And in the parts of the speech that sounded more like fireside chats than high-flying rhetoric, he conceded that America’s degraded status can only be restored by ending the damage at home and applying a dose of humility to an “America First” color Covid is replaced.
The extent of this damage could be seen from the western front of the Capitol. Gone were the crowds of hundreds of thousands who ordinarily witness and cheer a ritual of American democracy that Mr. Biden was determined to have to look like it always does to the millions who tune in.
As long as the camera shots were scarce, it was like this: the new President and Vice President, the large family Bible, the Chief Justice, the former Presidents. However, the lack of Mr. Trump, the central, disruptive figure at the center of the nation’s four-year drama, the first president in more than 150 years to refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration, could not be remedied. Nor was the prospect of Mr. Trump’s second impeachment trial, an absentee event that could begin in a few days and potentially revive the divisions that Mr. Biden sought to heal, could not be questioned.
As camera coverage widened, the “American slaughter” that Mr. Trump vowed to end in his own inaugural address four years ago was seen in ways unimaginable on January 20, 2017.
The armed camp he had left behind was a testimony to the divisions Mr. Trump had left behind when he flew one last time over town in Marine One on Wednesday morning, as close as any American president has been since Richard M. . has come closest to internal exile. Nixon resigned in 1974. (Mr. Trump’s final words to his Joint Base Andrews supporters, “Have a nice life,” seemed to underscore his own inability to find a way to deal with the damage caused.)
It wasn’t the empty National Mall that impressed participants as much as the miles of iron fences covered with barbed wire and surrounded by thousands of National Guard troops. There was no more vivid example of the state of the nation that Mr. Biden inherited.
At some point in the next few days and weeks this fence has to fall. The Senate trial of Mr Trump, most likely a short one, must end.
Then comes the test of Mr. Biden’s declaration that “there is no peace without unity”.
And while a number of leaders from both parties flocked to the inauguration and gossiped about the sentiment, it is far from clear that the country is really ready to move on.
In a nation that doesn’t seem to share common facts, to agree on the usefulness of simple masks, the safety of vaccines, or whether a vote has been rigged, it seems like Mr Biden’s dream is coming true to restore an orderly debate on politics to the triumph of hope over lived experience.
“I am desperately grateful that the institutions of democracy held up despite the damage that President Trump and his makers have wrought over the past four years,” said Kori Schake, a Republican who has held positions in the Pentagon and the National Security Council now in office is the American Enterprise Institute.
“But for President Biden the challenge is not only to govern, but also to strengthen the ailing institutions of our democracy,” said Ms. Schake. “We Republicans have a responsibility to restore public confidence in the integrity of our elections because we are the ones who challenged them.”