The world’s oldest democracy installed a new president on Wednesday as millions watched on television. A few snowflakes fell. Wearing a dark navy blue coat and a light blue tie, Joe Biden solemnly swore that he would “faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States,” and would, to the best of his ability, “preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.”
With those time honoured words, which every president since George Washington has uttered, he became the 46th president of the United States on the steps of the US Capitol, the very same site where a mob had tried to overturn the results of the presidential election recently, incited by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
“This is democracy’s day,” President Biden said. “America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy.”
Democracy has indeed won – but barely. The violent insurrection by Trump’s supporters two weeks ago, which left five people dead, shook America and the world. It led to Trump’s second impeachment in 13 months; no American president has ever been impeached twice before. As he exited the presidency, a churlish Trump did not attend his successor’s inauguration. He took off for Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Florida, after a small leave-taking ceremony for his aides at Andrews Air Force Base (AFB) in Maryland.
Even legislators in his own party were keen to see Trump go. Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence did not go to his send off. Neither did Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who had been the Senate Majority leader under President Trump and had supported him in many decisions. Nor did Kevin McCarthy, Congressman from California and the Republican minority leader in Congress.
Instead, both McConnell and McCarthy chose to attend a pre-inauguration mass with President Joe Biden. The day before the Inauguration, McConnell said that he held Trump liable as the mob that attacked the Capitol had been “fed lies” “and provoked by the president.”
Trump left office with the lowest presidential approval ratings in modern American history. It was perhaps an apt end to a chaotic presidency. Four years ago, he took office with a dystopian speech on American carnage, painting a picture of a country out of control, and saying he would make America great again.
Instead, America saw real carnage under his presidency from the coronavirus. More than 4,00,000 Americans have died due to the pandemic, which rivals the number of Americans who perished in World War II.
Trump has made it clear that he wants to “be back in some form.” His base still loves him, although that is slowly changing. The Proud Boys, a white supremacist organisation and hitherto Trump backer, said today that they considered him “a total failure.”
The next few weeks will shape Trump’s political future. What is clear is that he won’t concede his loss to Biden, and Americans have resigned themselves to Don Donald of Mar-a-Lago, tilting quixotically at the windmills of his election loss.
I asked a few Indian-Americans what they hoped for in the Biden presidency. “In the next four years, I’d like Truth and a shared Reality to take centre stage again,” said Kumar Govindaswamy, who lives in Massachusetts. Other Indian-Americans focussed on the relationship with India.
Washington DC-based Shefali Srivastava said that she hoped he would “clear the misconception that Trump was good for India.” Srinivas Kashyap from California hoped that the Biden administration would strengthen military ties with India “to deter any misadventure by China.”
All Indian-Americans were celebrating the ascendancy of Kamala Harris, who made history as the first woman as well as the first person of African-American and South Asian descent to be vice-president. Some said they were having masala dosa and sambar on Inauguration Day to celebrate her Tamil roots.
The overwhelming majority I polled in recent days wanted the divisiveness of the past four years to end, and America to be united again.
“What we need right now is healing the country, making it back to the United States of America and not the Divided States of America,” said Sanjeev Patny, who lives in New Jersey. “There are very few leaders who can do that effectively and he is one of them.”
President Biden has a lot of healing to do. The coronavirus requires his immediate attention. Hospitals in California and elsewhere are struggling to cope, and the vaccine rollout is slower than it should have been. He has to get the economy back in shape: Hundreds of thousands are unemployed.
He has already announced a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan and issued a raft of executive orders on his first day in office, rolling back many Trump administration programmes on immigration and the environment. And he committed the US to rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But President Biden’s biggest job will be to heal the wounds inflicted on American democracy. In light of recent events, he probably wishes there was a vaccine against demagoguery.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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