By Oscar Duffy
Last Wednesday, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. One couldn’t help but notice an altered atmosphere at this event, compared with ones that came before.
Though it sent the internet ablaze with Bernie Sanders and Lady Gaga memes and served as a hub of some spectacular pant-suits, Covid-19 and Donald Trump cast a rather large shadow over the proceedings. Masks, the National Guard, and no audience of cheering supporters made it a comparatively muted affair. Yet, as Gerard Baker wrote for The Times two days later, one could not help but hear Democrats and the media release a huge sigh of relief knowing that there was a return to some sort of political normality in Washington.
However, nothing, even without Trump in office, is normal. Baker affirmed this, describing how “fragile” Mr Biden’s mandate was with only a four per cent margin of victory, although he then proceeded to argue that there would be no effort on the side of the new President for reconciliation, despite the measured nature of his speech. Indeed, he was acutely aware of the fact that even without his predecessor in
Washington, Trumpism remains a malignant force in USA politics, so much so that instead of opting for the divisiveness of Trump’s inauguration comments on “American carnage”, Biden’s words were explicitly geared towards ending the “Uncivil War” that had been unleashed.
Baker seems to have missed this sentiment. Citing Biden’s immediate overhaul of Trump’s most controversial policy decisions by executive order, his thesis seems to be that the new President is painting Trumpism with a broad brush of condemnation, in a manner not unlike the narrative of the cancel culture that is such a favourite scaremongering technique of the right-wing press.
But if Biden’s speech did anything, it was meticulous and exhaustive in its attempts to foster “unity” rather than divisiveness (he even said the buzzword nine times in all). Of all the Democratic candidates that put their name forward for nominee, Biden is the most uniquely suited to
this turbulent era. He’s an old moderate, something that the hardest left of the Democrats condemned in their support for Bernie Sanders.
At the moment he received the nomination, Biden somehow absorbed criticisms that would usually be shared amongst the broad coalition on the left. Suddenly he was ‘woke’, extreme, socialist – all words that spark fear in the Republican heart. Indeed, if anyone is guilty of treating the opposition as an irredeemable monolith, it’s not Biden in his treatment of Trump voters, it’s a broad swathe on the opposition in its treatment of Biden.
For all the inflated expectations, Biden will probably fail to heal the divisions of America. If the insurrection at the Capitol is anything to go by, then tensions in the country are at a breaking point, and are not something that can be necessarily tamed. Trump still looms in the wings,
and, despite no Twitter account to vent his frustrations, the media will no doubt continue to nurture the unapologetic addiction they have for whatever he says or does.
The former President even promised his supporters he would be back, something that could manifest itself in a 2024 re-election bid if the second impeachment doesn’t result in a senate conviction. Die-hard supporters, like the ones who claimed vote-rigging and stormed the Capitol, will hardly come to accept the legitimacy of a Biden presidency, let alone support it.
But, despite this, to argue that his inauguration deliberately stoked division is a ludicrous posture. The speech was nothing but reassurances that even if Biden doesn’t succeed in healing the nation’s divisions, he will at least try. Considering the past four years, one could hardly ask for more.
Image: Verity Laycock