Joe Biden on Wednesday became the 46th president of the United States with a call to unity, vowing to bridge deep divides and defeat domestic extremism two weeks after a mob attack tried to undo his election victory.
On a frigid but sunny day at the very Capitol building that was assaulted on January 6, Biden swore the oath of office moments after Kamala Harris, who became America’s first woman vice president, turning the page on Donald Trump’s tumultuous four years.
“Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said before a National Mall that was virtually empty due to the ultra-tight security and a raging Covid-19 pandemic that he vowed to confront immediately.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility and we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes.”
“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 healings and goodness.”
But Trump, who falsely said that he was cheated out of a second term and egged on his supporters before their rampage at the Capitol, broke 152 years of tradition by refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration.
Biden appealed to Trump’s supporters, pledging to listen to all sides after four years of deep polarization in which Trump belittled minority groups and tried to cast doubts on basic facts.
“I will be a president for all Americans.”
But Biden confronted head-on the rise of domestic extremism, as witnessed during Trump’s presidency in the Capitol mob, deadly attacks on synagogues and immigrants and a violent march by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The United States faces “a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront, and we will defeat,” Biden said.
“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear and demonization have long torn us apart.”
At 78, Biden is the oldest president in US history and only the second Roman Catholic president.
Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, became the highest-ranking woman in US history and the first person of color as the nation’s number two.
She and her husband Doug Emhoff – America’s first-ever “second gentleman” – were escorted to the inauguration by Eugene Goodman, a Black police officer at the Capitol who lured the mostly white mob away from the Senate chambers in a video that went viral.
Central Washington took on the dystopian look of an armed camp, protected by some 25,000 National Guard troops tasked with preventing any repeat. The Supreme Court reported a bomb threat Wednesday morning.
With the general public essentially barred from attending due to the pandemic, Biden’s audience at the National Mall instead was 200,000 flags planted to represent the absent crowds.
Biden nonetheless brought in star power – absent four years ago with Trump. Lady Gaga, in a poofy dress that was Valentine red, sang the national anthem and Tom Hanks prepared for a televised evening appearance with the new president.
Jennifer Lopez sang a pop rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” often considered the unofficial US national anthem, ending it by exclaiming the words of the pledge of allegiance – a nation that promises “liberty and justice for all” – in Spanish.