Even with a less than capacity crowd on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, there was still a rapturous reaction to the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as America’s 46th President. Despite being a man who some have already called unfit for office merely due to his age, his opening speech was a powerful affair, plucked with quotes that could be compared to the greats by Franklin D. Roosevelt or Thomas Jefferson, and if Biden delivers on his core message, then maybe even they can get out of the Trump age alive.
As I’ve discussed before, America, through Biden, appear to be learning a lesson from history with regards to attempting to come together regardless of any differences of opinion. In fact, the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson actually presents an interesting parallel to the 2021 edition - his opponent, John Adams, who was dismayed at that year’s election results, skipped it, much like Trump did a couple of days ago. Perhaps more importantly, Jefferson drove home that same idea of unity: “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names, brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”. The idea of unity is what Biden hopes will characterise his presidency in the same way division came to characterise his predecessor’s. It would be very easy for me to sit and defame Trump by recounting the issues with his tenure, but the opening lines of the two President’s inauguration speeches prove it all: Trump opened his with “Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.,” whilst Biden kickstarted his tenure with the contrasting “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day.” That says it all.
Biden’s speech was threaded with references to unity and how he’d use “all his soul” to heal the wounds of America’s divisions. For those on the side of the Democrats, they’ll back Biden to the hills, but it’s the now deep-rooted issues with the Republicans moving even further right than ever before that will cause Biden problems. He’s got to find a way to bring together those who accept the victory and those who don’t. Roosevelt had similar problems with the ‘Thunder On The Left’ back in the thirties with the schemes he introduced following the Great Depression with the New Deal. The likes of Huey Long and Francis Townsend considered the New Deal a small step towards the radical reform they advocated whilst the on the right thought it was too radical. Even with Roosevelt’s plans they aimed to please, he still received opposition. The same is likely to happen with some of Biden’s reforms. Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and stopping the building of the border wall with Mexico would seem like middle of the road policies, but those on the left side of America may say more needs to be done and those on the right would consider such plans radical, not least when the former Vice President is following in the footsteps of one of America’s most radical leaders in generations.
What America needs now in the post-Trump age is someone to bring them back together and if Biden can get that right, then the US are arguably onto a winner. It would be wrong to characterise a leader who cares about the environment as well as minority rights as 'radical', but I can imagine that those on the far-right side of the Republican party will call him exactly that. Trump was known to have called even the most liberal of Democrats the r-word which is a sign of the sustained pushing in a rightwards direction that the United States has experienced over the last four years and it could be said Biden presidency doesn't really offer an immediate solution. It's going to take some time for Biden to get settled into the job and also, dependent upon policies, for the people to take to him.
It's not all about being able to heal just domestic divisions for Biden though. There is a major need to reestablish America as a true world power when it comes to reputation. The fact that Trump pulled out of a myriad of important agreements and organisations diminished America's standing as a gatekeeper for world peace and democracy, not least in the case of the Iran nuclear deal and more importantly to Biden, the Paris Climate Agreement. A restoration of America to such plans, with a former Vice President at the helm, is a surefire way for people to take America seriously again after several years of political turmoil. It is Biden's diplomatic experience gained from being Vice President that means he has a little bit more decorum and eloquence by comparison to his predecessor and through his own actions raise the profile of a country traditionally on the top of the world's organisations, flying the flag of both democracy and capitalism.
There's no doubt that Joe Biden has a long first 100 days ahead of him and that it's going to be one of the most important run of days in a presidency in a long time. Not many Presidents have faced as bigger domestic challenge as he has, and he needs to get it right.
If, over his first few months, he can make a good attempt to bring America together, handle the pandemic well and deliver on his campaign promises, then Biden might just prove to be the man for the job.