Biden’s speech represented a sharp contrast from the one delivered four years ago by the now former President Donald Trump, who spoke of “American carnage”—a grim yet accurate foreshadowing for that administration.
“This is America’s day.”
So began Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.’s inaugural address, shortly after he was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America.
In a roughly 20 minute speech, Biden sought to provide hope and unite a nation that has been divided by political opportunism and those who’ve told lies for “power and for profit.” That unity, Biden said, isn’t just a naive, optimistic ideal, but a requirement to tackle the “cascading crises” the United States faces today.
“A once in a century virus that silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” Biden said. “A cry of survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism white supremacy and domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”
Biden then made his point: the only thing that would get American through all of this is unity.
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity.”
With that unity, Biden said the country could tackle “anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.”
Biden’s speech represented a sharp contrast from the one delivered four years ago by the now former President Donald Trump, who spoke of “American carnage”—a grim yet accurate foreshadowing for an administration that, among other horrors, separated migrant children separated from their parents; openly embraced white nationalism; fueled rampant racism; imposed travel bans on Muslims; targeted the rights of LGBTQ individuals; tried to rip away healthcare from 20 million Americans; delivered tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy; did nothing to address the growing threat of climate change; denied and downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic; and most recently, incited an insurrection at the US Capitol that led to the deaths of five people.
Biden said solving these very issues—which predated Trump, but were exacerbated by him— and righting these wrongs would require unity.
“We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make healthcare secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world,” he said.
Biden, who made unity and healing the nation’s soul the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, acknowledged that some people would view his call to unity as a “foolish fantasy” given the deep divisions in the country. But he also noted that the nefarious forces that divide the country are not new and that the country has overcome them before.
“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart,” Biden said. “The battle is perennial and victory is never assured. Through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11.Through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us, enough of us, have come together to carry all of us forward. And we can do that now.”
Biden also urged Americans to lower the temperature and show each other respect.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue. Rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” he said. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment stand in their shoes. Because here’s this thing about life: There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days, when you need a hand, there are other days when we’re called to lend a hand.”
In another departure from Trump, Biden also promised to be a president for all Americans, even those who didn’t vote for him. He also asked those who oppose him to hear him out and give him a chance. “If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our republic is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength,” the president said. “Yet hear me clearly, disagreement must not lead to disunion.”
Biden didn’t just sound different than Trump. His actions were also a contrast, as he used a portion of his speech to honor the memories of those Americans who’ve died during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In my first act as president, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer, remember all of those who we’ve lost in this past year to the pandemic, those 400,000 fellow Americans, moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and coworkers,” Biden said.
Biden, who has already unveiled his plan to fight the pandemic, ramp up vaccine production and distribution, and save American lives largely struck an optimistic tone. But he also made clear that things would not get better overnight. And for them to get better, he said, it would require—yes, you guessed it—unity.
“We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” Biden warned. “We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. One nation.”