Updated January 20, 2021 - 2:36 pm
WASHINGTON — “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” President Joe Biden told the American people moments after he took the oath of office and became the 46th president of the United States. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”
In the middle of a pandemic and following a riot at the Capitol, Biden delivered an optimistic message that acknowledged the steep challenges ahead. While he did not mention now-former President Donald Trump by name, he did speak of Jan. 6 when “a riotous mob thought they could use violence to change the will of the people” by preventing Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote in his favor.
“It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever,” Biden declared.
Biden exhorted those listening to fight the “lies told for power or profit” that fanned the flames of discontent, an apparent reference to Trump’s unproven claims that voter fraud robbed him of victory.
With the coronavirus having killed more Americans in one year than the death toll of all of World War II, Biden urged the country to seek unity. “We’re going to need each other,” Biden said. And he called for a moment of silence for the dead.
“There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you,” Biden said in remarks that spoke to the personal losses of his first wife and young daughter in 1972 and his son Beau who passed away from cancer in 2015.
Biden’s address differed in almost all respects from Trump’s inaugural address four years ago, one expert said.
“His content was very positive, a stark contrast with 2016,” speech coach and communications specialist Ruth Sherman told the Review Journal with a reference to Trump’s 2016 “American carnage” speech. “This seems to be his personality, but also purposeful in comparison with his predecessor.”
“If it’s a leader’s job to give voice to people’s fears, anxieties, and worries, to comfort them and to encourage them to work together to move forward, then he succeeded,” Sherman added.
But Ken Khachigian, a one-time speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, gave Biden a C+. “He raises his voice as if that’s the only way he can make his point,” said Khachigian.
Khachigian objected to Biden’s portrait of America as a racist, nativist nation, instead of the global leader for opportunity. “It was a portrait of an America I didn’t recognize,” said Khachigian, and “not anything like the America that everyone wakes up to in Idaho Falls or Nashville or Dearborn on Sacramento.”
“In that respect, I thought the unity he called for was a fake unity,” Khachigian concluded.
But another expert called the speech a welcome change.
“After four years of fearing and fighting Trump, from causing more pain, division, chaos and suffering, it’s such a relief to have competent, compassionate leadership actively dedicated to helping and healing,” said Dan Newman, a one-time adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris.
It was an historical moment that began with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the top court, swearing in Harris, the first woman, the first African-American and the first Asian-American to serve as vice president.
Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Biden, who at 78 is the oldest man to be sworn into office, as his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, held the family Bible.
Ahead of the ceremony, Biden posted a tweet to his wife that said, “I love you, Jilly, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have you with me on the journey ahead.”
The moment tied a bow on Biden’s decades-long pursuit of the Oval Office that began in 1987, resumed for the 2008 cycle, and took a detour when President Barack Obama chose the then-Delaware senator as his running mate that year.
Backdrop of crisis
The peaceful transfer of power transpired amid a pandemic that took some 400,000 American lives and prompted the new chief executive to ask most Americans to watch the ceremony from home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Biden focused on what he sees as America’s four national crises – COVID 19, racial inequity, climate change and an economy hampered by the pandemic.
On his first day in office, Biden prepared to sweep away Trump policies with the signing of multiple executive orders and the sending of a bill to Congress, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, that would provide for legal status and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Rather than stick with tradition by greeting Biden at the White House and attending the inaugural, Trump and first lady Melania Trump left the White House Wednesday morning.
Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s stalwart wing-man for most of the term, and his wife Karen — along with many members of Congress — attended the inauguration and skipped Trump’s departure from Washington.
Heading for Marine One on the South Lawn, Trump briefly addressing the press. “I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye,” he said. Then the couple boarded Marine One, which took a swing over the Capitol before heading to Joint Base Andrews for a send-off by family members, staff and supporters.
As he addressed supporters for some ten minutes at Andrews, Trump looked to his future as a private citizen without regret. “We’ve left it all on the field as some athletes say,” Trump said “In a month when we’re sitting in Florida we’re not going to be looking at each other and saying, ‘If only we worked a little bit harder.’ You can’t work harder.”
Trump, who also made history as the first president to be impeached twice, did not mention Biden by name, nor has he ever congratulated his successor or conceded the race.
“His voice sounded very good,” Sherman offered, before surmising “because he’s given it a rest.”
After Trump waved goodbye from Air Force One, Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff headed to a church service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle ahead of the inauguration. The Bidens had spent the evening at Blair House.
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also attended the inauguration and missed Trump’s parting words.