Photo credit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/
By Shirley L. Smith
Scores of people in America and around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday as the tumultuous reign of Donald Trump, who led with a heavy hand and a cold heart, finally came to an end.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris – the first woman, first Black and first South-Asian American to serve as vice president – were officially sworn into office on a cold winter day without the usual fanfare and the traditional passing of the torch from one president to the other. Even on his way out the door, Trump could not put the country first and be gracious by attending Biden and Harris’ inauguration.
The day started with a bit of an overcast, but as the ceremony got underway, the cloudy sky cleared, and a ray of sunshine gleamed over the inaugural stage. It felt like the nation was going through a metamorphosis from a season of darkness and despair to a brighter, more hopeful future.
But the Biden and Harris administration will have their work cut out for them.
They are inheriting a deeply polarized nation that has been left battered and bruised at home and abroad by the Trump administration and that is desperately in need of healing.
Biden also has to restore America’s standing in the world. Although Trump was elected on the nebulous promise, to some, that he would “Make America Great Again,” he managed to diminish America’s reputation around the world and made it a laughingstock, a nation to be pitied rather than admired.
Biden and Harris will also have to address the needs of millions of Americans exhausted by a raging pandemic that has killed over 400,000 people, rising unemployment rates that have left many struggling to keep a roof over their heads and put food on their table, and the fallout of centuries of systemic racism.
It is a daunting task, but Biden and Harris say they are up to the challenge.
Biden promised to make the COVID-19 crisis a priority and to tackle all of these problems with the urgency they require. He also said he plans to lead with compassion and empathy, and he is expecting no less from his staff.
Biden wasted no time confronting these problems head-on. Shortly after he was sworn in, he passed 15 executive orders that included issuing a mask mandate on federal property, ramping up the vaccine distribution process and reversing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization. He also launched an effort to root out systemic racism, a problem Trump refused to recognize even exist.
Before Biden took the oath of office, Jennifer Lopez gave an impassioned rendition of “This Land is Your Land.” The song was the perfect prelude to his inaugural speech, which was not about him but the American people. After four years of a self-absorbed president with delusions of grandeur, this was refreshing.
Biden’s speech did not contain any flowery language. It was just a simple message, calling for national unity. “We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”
Biden insisted that “unity is the path forward.” He said it is the only way to restore the soul of America and defeat the rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism and systemic racism.
He also called for Americans to end the “uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” And, he said, “we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
Biden’s tone and words are a stark contrast to Trump. Biden appealed to American’s common decency and love for their country, whereas political experts said Trump used divisive rhetoric with racial undertones to play on American’s fears and anxieties about the nation’s changing racial demographics, and the loss of traditional religious and cultural values.
Trump’s presidency was defined by incendiary rhetoric that emboldened extremists and white supremacists to come out of the shadows, take off their veils and boldly unleash their venom on society without fear of prosecution.
Trump not only sowed the seeds of discord, but his constant distortions of the truth caused many American’s to distrust institutions that are the bedrock of our democracy like well-established media organizations, the courts, the electoral system, and anyone who did not acquiesce to his way of thinking.
Trump’s callous and inflammatory rhetoric inevitably led to violence.
On Jan. 6, a mob of Trump’s devout followers, incited by his repeated lies that the presidential election was rigged, attempted a coup by executing a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, an epicenter of American democracy. The assault forced members of Congress into hiding and resulted in the death of five people.
“He was a lawless president,” said Peter Wehner, vice president and senior fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, in an interview with PBS NewsHour on the eve of the inauguration.
Wehner, who served in three Republican administrations, added: “He violated norms in every single direction, civic and political. There was a savagery to our politics because of him.”
Wehner is one of few Republicans that have spoken out against the disastrous Trump administration. Even after the horrific assault on the Capitol, most Republications continue to shamelessly perpetuate “the big lie” that the presidential election was rigged despite no evidence of widespread election fraud. The sad thing is, it is not that they do not know better, because they do, but they are either driven by their insatiable lust for power, misplaced loyalty to their party rather than their country, or worse, their deeply rooted racial bias.
Ironically, Trump said in his inaugural address in 2017 that he would put an end to “American carnage,” but Trump is the one that is leaving behind a legacy of carnage and bloodshed, stemming not only from his dangerous rhetoric but the politicization of wearing masks, which medical experts say is a necessary precautionary measure to save lives.
Only time will tell whether Biden and Harris can “restore the soul of America” and repair the damage that Trump and his cohorts have done to this country domestically and internationally. However, Biden and Harris are off to a good start by setting the right tone and having a national memorial service before their inauguration to remember those who have died from COVID-19.
Biden, who lost his first wife and son in a tragic car accident and another son to cancer, knows too well the pain of losing a loved one.
While no words can soothe the heart of someone grieving the loss of a loved one, especially those who have had to grieve in isolation without the support they need, Biden understands that healing starts by acknowledging one’s suffering and letting them know they matter and their loved one’s matter.
“To heal we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal,” Biden said.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of our shared humanity. We live in a global community, so what happens in Europe, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world affects us all. This is a time when we are called to put aside our selfish desires for the good of humanity because our actions can literally kill our families, friends, coworkers and anyone who crosses our path. Our mere existence depends on our willingness to make sacrifices, and care for and protect our fellow human beings.
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it,” said Amanda Gorman,
America’s First Youth Poet Laureate at the inauguration of
President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021.