Finally he’s gone! Washington breathes a sigh of relief now that Donald Trump’s presidency is history. On a historic day, Joe Biden made a lot of promises abroad – but there is a catch.
There are two dramatic movements, charged with pathos, in normal times they would be called exaggerated. But these are not normal times in America.
When Joe Biden, newly sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, steps up to the podium on the Western Front of the US Capitol, he first says: “Democracy is fragile.” And then: “Democracy has triumphed.”
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Exactly two weeks ago, where Biden speaks and the few hundred guests are gathered, a mob beat up and tried to stop a democratic election by force. Wherever a crowd raged by the old president is now the new president taking office.
An extraordinary change of power
What would have been democratic routine in other times is now an extraordinary shift in power that Washington, the United States and the world have seen. Four years after Trump himself gained power in a populist revolution and threw his country into the spin cycle until he incited the mob on the Capitol and America’s politicians.
This inauguration takes place without the crowds. Only a few hundred politicians, guests and journalists are present at the ceremony. That has to do with Corona and with the fear of renewed uprising by Trump supporters. Lady Gaga belts out the national anthem and Jennifer Lopez decorates the old folk song “This Land is Your Land” with a little Spanish.
John F. Kennedy once warned at the inauguration: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Donald Trump thought of an “American slaughter” that he wanted to end on the spot. What about Joe Biden? That’s typical Joe Biden.
Biden: Please no more “total war”
His speech does not use brilliant rhetoric, but offers haunting messages and a clear stance: America can only thrive if it can find its way back together and treat one another properly, is the common thread. “Not every difference of opinion has to be a reason for total war,” says the 78-year-old. These are sentences that Trump could never have said credibly.
The speech is also anchored in reality – this was rarely the case recently when a US president spoke. Few times in US history have been more challenging and difficult, says Biden.
“A New Chapter for America and the World”
This is certainly not an exaggeration. And that’s probably why the mood at the Capitol is characterized by hope. It’s the invited guests of the Democrats, so that’s not surprising, but it is noticeable. Whoever you speak to on site, they all express this thought. The Democratic MP Abigail Spanberger, on behalf of many, put it this way: “This is a new chapter for America and hopefully for the whole world.”
The Democratic MP Abigail Spanberger in front of the US Capitol: Today Joe Biden was sworn in as US President. (Source: Fabian Reinbold / t-online)
There’s a lot going on around the world anyway. Biden himself explicitly addresses foreign countries and says: “We will repair our alliances and deal with the world again. Even the young black poet Amanda Gorman, who speaks at the end, addresses her contribution to” the Americans and the world. “Hello World, we’re back, that’s the message of January 20th.
In Europe you will be very happy to hear that. But Biden’s promise to the world has the catch that the new president must overcome America’s deep internal crisis even more urgently. Biden will change some things: he will return to the Paris climate agreement, adopt clear measures against a pandemic in which his predecessor was not really interested. Biden’s Democrats have had a wafer-thin majority in both chambers of Congress since Wednesday.
Trump’s damage record
But Trump’s damage balance includes an even deeper divided, insecure, ailing country. Corona is out of control, has already cost 400,000 lives and thrown millions into poverty. Two opposing sides can no longer agree on a common reality – and with the energetic help of Trump, a camp has moved far away from reality and possibly also from democracy. Trump remains a hero with most of his supporters, and his stories – no matter how far removed from reality – continue to dominate influential opinion leaders on Fox News and on social media.
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Trump did little in his final hours in office to pave the way for Biden’s project of unity. Instead, he was the first President since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to skip inauguration. He left the White House one last time at dawn, which was a relief for the majority of Americans. One last speech, one last flight on Air Force One, Donald Trump is now ex-president in Florida.
He leaves the White House with lower popularity ratings than his predecessors. In addition to 400,000 corona deaths, his balance sheet also includes 30,000 lies documented by the tireless “Washington Post”. Confidence in politics is at its lowest. The ceremony of democracy at the Capitol will not change that.
Trump is gone. But Biden inherited the America he created.