(CN) — In what some hailed as the most important inaugural speech in modern American history, President Joe Biden called for a new era of unity and healing as he pledged to bring an end to the pandemic that has dramatically altered the lives of every American while leading the restoration of a battered economy.
“This is America’s day, this is democracy’s day,” he said.
On a brisk clear day in Washington, Biden delivered the most important speech of his political career in front of the U.S. Capitol, the enduring symbol of American democracy that was assaulted only weeks ago by an angry mob intent on denying him his electoral victory over former President Donald Trump.
He talked about the need for the nation to move beyond this period marked by deep partisan division, anger and outrage.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” he said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
Biden’s speech was aspirational, a sharp departure from his predecessor’s speech four years ago which focused on “American carnage” and the anger and outrage in some corners of America.
“Here we stand, looking out on the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream,” he said. “Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote. And today we mark the swearing in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
The newly sworn-in president — the 46th in the nation’s history — frequently invoked the Capitol, particularly given its role as the centerpiece of unrest in one of the most turbulent presidential transitions in history.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious, and democracy is fragile,” Biden said. “At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
The newly minted president said racial justice, economic equality, restoring America’s role in the world and addressing the climate crisis all required urgent attention and action. But he talked most of the coronavirus pandemic, acknowledging its toll on the fabric of American life in a way that his predecessor did not.
“Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now,” he said.
Biden said in order to rise to meet this and the other challenges, America must strive to recapture a sense of unity and common purpose, where disagreements do not lead to disunity.
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words and requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity,” he said.
It may prove more difficult, as the Trump wing of the Republican Party remains angry about what they see as an illegitimate president stealing an election after Trump and his allies consistently cast doubt on the results.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Representative from Georgia and disseminator of various conspiracy theories, took to Twitter on Wednesday to encourage the impeachment of Biden mere minutes after he was inaugurated.
While Biden did promise to reach across the aisle and represent all Americans, including Republicans, he strongly repudiated many of the strains of public debate that are predicated on lies and misinformation.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson,” Biden said. “There is truth and there are lies.”
Trump did not intend the inauguration, the first president since 1869 to skip the ceremony, but several members of the Republican Party — including former Vice President Mike Pence — attended. Lawmakers who cast doubt on the veracity of the electoral results, including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio also attended Wednesday’s ceremony honoring America’s peaceful transfer of power.
At the end of his speech, Biden said a united America is more than capable of tackling the nation’s and the world’s largest and most persistent problems and encouraged his constituents to “go big.”
Now that the soaring rhetoric, hope and promise of Inauguration Day have been articulated, Biden must face the pragmatic difficulties of enacting his ambitious agenda for his first 100 days.