In his first remarks as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden declared from the steps of the Capitol building that was stormed by a riotous mob just two weeks ago: “Democracy has prevailed.”
Biden called for unity and healing in the wake of President Trump’s fractious, convention-defying four years in office. He called for an end to an “uncivil war” and called for a new form of politics based on hearing one another and rejecting lies and misinformation.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” Biden said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. We must reject the culture where facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this.”
Biden addressed head-on the violence that shook the nation on Jan. 6 in his inaugural speech Wednesday on the heels of his swearing-in as President by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
“America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge,” Biden said. “The will of the people has been heard and has been heeded.”
Noting that the Capitol stands as “sacred ground” for the nation, he said “Democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile.”
Biden also highlighted the role that media has played in sowing anger and bitterness among those with political differences.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson,” he said. “There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. Each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens, as Americans and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
In calling for Americans to come together as one nation, Biden implored that in the spirit of unity “we have much to heal, much to build and much to gain.” Buttressing his overarching message, he added: “Unity is the path forward.”
Biden did not soft-pedal the hardship and pernicious bitterness that divides many in the country he now leads. He decried the trend of political and cultural divisions driving people to “retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you, or worship the way you do or don’t get their news for the same sources you do.”
As expected, Biden pledged to work for all Americans, even those 75 million who did not vote for him, and he cast it in very personal terms.
“Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart,” Biden said. “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 this nation’s greatest strength. Yet hear me clearly. Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you, I will be a president for all Americans, all Americans. And I promise you, I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
He warned that without efforts to bring the country together and “stop the shouting” because otherwise “there is no peace, only bitterness and fury, no progress, only exhausting outrage,” he said.
Biden repeatedly stressed that the rancor of partisan politics needs to settle down. He called for Americans “to end this uncivil war that puts red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
He also asked the audience to take a moment for “silent prayer” to honor the 400,000 Americans who have died from the COVID-19 pandemic during the past year. He warned that the pain of the pandemic is far from over and far from the only crisis that needs to be addressed.
“We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” Biden said.
Repeating one of he key campaign themes, he alluded to a series of “cascading crises” facing the country, including climate change and systemic racism.
“We face an attack on our democracy and on truth. A raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we’ve had. Now we’re going to be tested,” he said.
In one of many passages that was a sharp contrast to the style and tone of his Oval Office predecessor, Biden toward the end of his 21-minute address made a simple promise.
“I give you my word, I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America,” Biden said.