We congratulate Joseph R. Biden, Jr., on his investiture as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris, the first American and black female Vice President. We also congratulate the United States, whose fate on democracy remains strong even when it teetered on the brink for nearly three months, culminating into a bloody insurrection and sedition.
President Biden rightly stated that “democracy has prevailed.” That was an understatement given a predecessor, Donald J. Trump, who refused to accept the principle of a peaceful transition of power, who refused to concede an election he clearly and squarely lost, and who, as a last desperate act, attempted a power grab through forceful and unconstitutional means. The usually happy city of Washington DC, was, for all practical purposes, like an armed camp, swarming with 25,000 National Guard soldiers, and its streets, usually in festive mood during an inauguration, deserted and lifeless.
Donald Trump left the White House in shame, like a prodigal son. He never thought he would be a one-term president and he was willing to do anything to prevent that, including instigating insurrection, unheard of in American history, and absolutely unimaginable to most Americans, which he attempted on January 6. His farewell parade at the Joint Air Base was like a funeral. He had expected a huge rally of supporters as he was accustomed to. He found only a few unenthusiastic, mostly family members, who had to be there. Even his promise “to be back in one form or another” was said without conviction. Even more despondent are his conspiracy theory allies including the notorious QAnon who up till the morning of January 20, believed that by some mystical or miraculous powers, Trump would declare martial law and prevent Biden’s inauguration and be sworn-in himself for a second term. A few who had seen the handwriting on the wall think the failure of their prophecies to materialise is like the end of the world for them.
No doubt, President Biden will grapple with gigantic problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans, an economic collapse with 10 million Americans unemployed, a pressure to do something about racial injustice and several other major issues. He started on Day 1 by signing 17 Executive Orders many of them reversing Trump’s policies on immigration, Climate Change (the Paris Accord), the withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Keystone Pipeline. He unveiled the 200-page National Pandemic Strategy which encapsulates his answer to the pandemic.
He is compelling Americans to wear a mask. He is speeding up COVID-19 production – vaccines, testing, equipment of all kinds and he is ready to use military production regulations to ensure that there are no bottlenecks. To underscore the importance he places on COVID-19 activities, he has argued that 400,000 Americans have died, about the number of Americans who died in World War 11.
As much as these issues are difficult, even more intractable is how to convince Trump’s followers who have been fed so much falsehood: only 19 per cent of Republicans think that Biden actually won the election. Biden has made “uniting to fight the foes we face” as central to his determination to unite America. How he does so within the deep divisions in the society looks like a titanic struggle. This American reality is best captured by Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old youth poet laureate who took the inauguration by storm by the sheer power of her words: “…to put our future first, we must put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another; we seek harm to none and harmony for all … Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true; that even as we grieved, we grew; that even as we hurt, we hoped…”
But the departure of Trump also means that the numerous racist groups which pre-Trump were regarded as fringe groups would return to their previous situation. They will no longer be given oxygen by having a sympathetic, complicit, president at the White House. The Oath Keepers, the QAnon, the Klansmen, the white supremacists, the anti-Semites and others may now come under increased scrutiny. Before Trump, even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) turned a blind eye on the nefarious activities of the groups.
After January 6, and more than 120 defendants facing charges in the attack on Capitol Hill, these groups, some of which are salivating for a “race war,” would need to re-examine their pernicious ideas. Now that the election is over, it is time for national reconciliation and healing, which Biden has already started. We also urge him to reach out to American allies and reclaim the US position in global affairs.