Today, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States and Kamala Harris was the first woman to be sworn in as vice president. The event itself was historic and barrier-breaking, but also was kept in line with as many traditions as possible in our “new normal” world in which we’re battling the COVID-19 pandemic as well as increasing threats of domestic terrorism. The ceremony was held, as it has been since the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, on Capitol Hill, which just a couple weeks ago was the site of an insurrection that attempted to halt the events that took place today. The choice to take their oaths here was not, however, solely out of tradition. There was a conscious choice made to defy those who sought to overthrow our democratic process by standing in the same spot that violent mobs just weeks ago stormed on to with rage.
The ceremony began with an invocation from Father Leo J. O’Donovan, then continued with a guided pledge of allegiance with Georgia firefighter Andrea Hall, and then a much-anticipated poem reading by the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Gorman’s poem encapsulated the feeling of lots of Americans lately: while we have come far, we still have a ways to go. The poet told CNN that while she was half-way done writing her poem for the inauguration, she saw the pro-Trump mob storm the Capitol and decided she wanted to write something with a message of unity. “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,” she recited. “Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
Unity was an idea shared by all speakers on Wednesday, and Biden focused on this message heavily during his first remarks as president. Due to the pandemic, the National Mall that would normally be filled with people, was instead filled with 200,000 American flags to represent those lost to the virus. In his remarks, President Biden brought.a different approach to the office than we’ve seen in these past four years. In a harsh juxtaposition to Trump’s inaugural words referencing “American carnage,” Biden spoke of coming together and said that we as a country need to put an end to this “uncivil war.” “Unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail,” the president said. He said that to overcome the challenges that we face will require a fractured country to once again come together. He spoke about how Americans need to see more than just “red vs. blue” and do what is hard, which is to unite.
Now former-President Trump broke tradition by not attending the ceremony, something that has not been done by an outgoing president since the 19th century. “It’s usually a sign that American society is in the midst of a major political feud,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, to The New York Times. He said that the act of an outgoing president shaking hands and cooperating in the incoming administration’s inaugural address is important in American democracy because it signals a peaceful transition of power and stability. President Trump left the White House as a resident for the last time early this morning, telling reporters, “We will be back in some form, have a good life.”