Like millions of people I was glued to yesterday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden. There’s lots to say about the event but perhaps the most important thing is not what happened but that it happened. The transfer of power took place peacefully, with dignity and decorum and without a single protest, violent or otherwise; a fact which was celebrated throughout by all commentators. I don’t normally watch these events; they’re rather too heavy on God, flag-waving and my fellow-Americans schtick for my liking, but this time was different. Completely different. First of all, there was the sheer heartfelt relief of waving goodbye to the little orange would-be dictator and seeing him head off into the sunset not having got the send-off he wanted and about to see many of his key policies reversed. Phew. Then there was the event itself. Disregarding a lot of the ‘we are the fathers and upholders of democracy’ – ahem! I think you’ll find that’s us (though just don’t enquire too closely into what sort of democracy we had) it was nevertheless important to state and restate that the democratic process had been upheld in spite of strenuous attempts to topple it. This was underlined by the presence of past Presidents including Bush, Clinton and Obama and not least by the attendance of Mike Pence. Reactionary Trump-enabler though he was, he at least understood that the first rule of politics is to show up: show up when you win and show up when you lose – and the handing over of Vice President Pence to VP Harris as Pence and his wife left after the ceremony was almost as moving as the ceremony itself.
There was a great deal of good stuff here; anthems sung by Lady Gaga and Jenifer Lopez and humorous introductions by Senator Amy Klobuchar but I’m just going to mention two things; the poem and Biden’s speech. The poem was written and delivered by Amanda Gorman, the youth Poet Laureate, and was the highlight of the entire ceremony. And there could hardly be a more important keynote speech than this one, delivered on the steps of the Capitol building and setting the tone for the years to come. Biden did not disappoint. He avoided triumphalism, saying this was a victory not for a candidate but for the process of democracy. He called out racism and misogyny, mentioning Native Americans (who don’t often get a look-in) and heralding those women who marched for the vote; he flagged up climate change and the virus as the most serious challenges and called for a moment of silence for the victims of C19. But perhaps most importantly of all were two key features of his speech, the call for unity and the call for truth. It should not need saying but after the last four years it does: there is truth and there is untruth. There are truths and there are lies. I can’t think of a thing he said that I disagreed with, nor a single thing he left out that he should have included; the speech was bang-on. The full transcript is here. And video highlights of the event can be found here.
Biden has hit the ground running – as indeed he needed to – signing a slew of Executive Orders on rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and the WHO and on immigration, Covid and the environment. But there is much more to do and it causes me to wonder: could Biden under these circumstances be a better President than he would have been in other times? History will show; he may be too timid and his best instincts may yet be stymied by the Republicans in the Senate, but as the phrase has it, well-begun is half done and Biden has begun well.
Here’s the brilliant poem by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.