Joe Biden’s inauguration – unity amid disunity

Joe Biden’s inauguration will be remembered for a number of historic firsts, as well as the urging of unity amidst disunity.  

The Covid-19 pandemic inevitably impacted the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States. 

The crowds that usually throng the Mall on such occasions were conspicuously absent, and instead almost 200,000 US flags were displayed to represent the American people unable to attend the inauguration. 

All participants in the event wore masks and had socially distanced seating arrangements, whilst the typical series of inaugural balls which follow the inauguration were cancelled. 

Numerous security threats also had a significant impact on the inauguration. 

Following the deadly attack on the Capitol just two weeks ago, Washington D.C. was placed under emergency measures, and 25,000 National Guard troops were sent in order to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. 

The installation of bulletproof glass and razor wire provided enhanced security measures and conveyed the risks associated with the inauguration.

The event will also be viewed differently to previous inaugurations due to the conspicuous absence of Biden’s predecessor. 

Former President Donald Trump left Washington D.C. on Wednesday morning, and became the first President since Nixon not to attend his successor’s inauguration. 

Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, however, did attend the inauguration, alongside Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, who recorded a video for Biden. 

In this, the three men encouraged Americans to “reach out to their friends and neighbours,” in order to work for peace and harmony in America. 

The inauguration must also be considered to have historical significance in terms of representation. 

Kamala Harris has now become both the first female Vice President and the first African American and Asian American Vice President. 

Amanda Gorman, America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, expressed a sense of optimism and hope in her poem recitation, stating that she was “descended from slaves,” and could now hope to be president one day. 

These challenges and triumphs featured heavily in Biden’s inauguration speech, which emphasised the need for America to come together in this time of crisis. 

Highlighting the resilience of the American spirit, which he said had faced challenges in which “we endured and we prevailed,” Biden declared the need for “light, not darkness,” and promised to defend democracy and the constitution. 

Throughout his inaugural speech, Biden also identified distinct threats to the stability of the US. 

He implored listeners to “reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” which could be interpreted as a coded reference to the culture of fake news. 

Biden also referred to the challenges of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism and the climate crisis, and suggested that the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic lie ahead. 

It was notable that Biden made no references to practical means in which this unity may be achieved or these threats neutralised, instead saying vaguely that Americans should “show respect to one another”. 

The lack of specific policy pledges could convey the fact that Biden seeks to strike a balance between both democrats and republicans. 

He told listeners, “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did,” which suggests he seeks to be a unifying figure. 

In his years in the Senate, he was known for reaching across the aisle to gain support from republicans for legislation, and with a Senate that the Democrats currently hold by a very narrow majority, such compromises and reconciliation may well come to characterise his presidency. 

Image: US National Archives