US President Joseph R Biden Jr implored Americans to come together in an inauguration speech that highlighted the trials of democracy and challenges his government faces in the coming months.
“My whole soul is in this. Bringing America together. Uniting our people. Uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause,” Biden said in a speech after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
His inauguration was markedly different from those that came before him – with social distancing and masks in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
The theme of the inauguration was “America United” but the difficult trials of democracy were also on full display, with multiple speakers referring to the violent riot that occurred earlier in the month at the very same location.
“The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said, emphasising his view that America had been tested and risen to the challenge.
“Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from our sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever,” he said.
The theme of the country’s democratic future was highlighted throughout the ceremony, with an introduction by Senator Amy Klobuchar who called on citizens “to take up the torch of our democracy not as a weapon of political arson but as an instrument for political good.”
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had refused to attend the inauguration that marks the transfer of power to the new leader, which analysts say is the hallmark of democracy.
Trump did not concede the election and was impeached for a second time prior to the end of this administration for inciting the mob that broke into the Capitol.
Although he claimed for weeks that the election was stolen, Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning and said in his final remarks as president that he wished the next administration “great success”.
Biden’s inauguration had shut down the US capital Washington DC, with tens of thousands of federal troops guarding the city amid fears of armed protests.
Leaders from both political parties in addition to former Vice President Mike Pence attended the ceremony at the US Capitol.
For some, the new US president’s impassioned words contrasted with Trump’s 2017 inauguration speech when he laid out what some said was a dark vision of the US, stating that the “American carnage stops right here and stops right now”.
Biden’s message was repeatedly one of coming together and “healing”. He said that unity might sound like a “foolish fantasy” but that the problems America faced were not new.
“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonisation [that] have long torn us apart,” Biden said. “The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.”
“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos,” Biden said. “We must meet this moment as the United States of America.”
Biden called for people to listen and respect one another and he condemned the manipulation of facts, white supremacy, and racism, stating: “We have to be different than this. We have to be better than this.”
He said he would fight as hard for those who did not support him as for those who did. He called for people to come together to face a difficult winter amid the pandemic.
“Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear, of unity, not division, of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness. May this be the story that guides us, the story that inspires us, and the story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history,” Biden said.
“We met the moment. Democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch but thrive. That America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world.”