On January 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, notably without his predecessor present. In many ways, President Biden’s inaugural address was a return to the normal sorts of addresses we see and hear from American presidents. There were the usual empty words and platitudes. The usual patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric. Phrases like “This is a great nation and we are a good people,” “We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world,” and “We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together.”
There was also the usual claim of having a mandate of the people while receiving 51.4% of the popular vote. Biden received votes from 34% of eligible voters in the United States. Trump received 31%. “I did not vote,” won the popular vote with the remaining 35%. This is, of course, not unusual, but it shows that Biden’s statement “the will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded,” lacks some truth. Truth is something Biden has focused on, as he has said “each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders … to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.” The truth of the matter is that only a third of the US voting-eligible population voted for Biden.
The other main focus of Biden’s address was unity and the need to restore it in America. “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, hopelessness,” he said. Biden cemented his commitment to unity, by making it clear that “ I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” I do not want Biden to fight as hard for those who did not support him as for those who did. Many of those who did and do not support him are the very same people advocating for anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness and violence. Downplaying or ignoring COVID-19, leaving people jobless and providing no hope. There cannot be, nor should there ever be, unity between the American people and those who work against the interests of the American people. Even though Trump is out of office, many of the people in government who have worked against the interests of the American people, both Democrats and Republicans, remain in office and will continue to work against the American people’s interests. To “restore the soul and to secure the future of America” does require “more than words.” But it does not require “that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity.” Rather, it requires action. Action to help the American people. Not unity with those who hurt the American people. Not to say the right things or provide the right symbolic gestures. Action. Biden is right: “Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now.” Few periods in the world’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now. Let us hope the American people and the people of the world have the courage and the determination to stand up and force the action we so desperately need.