After one of the most contentious elections and presidential transitions in recent history, it was a relatively scaled-back inauguration ceremony that finally placed 46th President of the U.S. Joe Biden in the Oval Office.
The devastating human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with deep partisan rancour and the bitter aftertaste of the Capitol building attack earlier this month, meant that Inauguration Day was less a flamboyant extravaganza than a quiet celebration of multicultural America reasserting itself.
There could have been no greater symbol of that assertion than the swearing-in of Kamala Harris, his running mate of Indian and African descent, as Vice-President — the first woman ever to hold that position. Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, chose to not attend the event, making him only the fourth President to do so.
Nevertheless, bipartisan goodwill was present on the dais before the Capitol building, as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Mr. Biden, including former Vice-President Mike Pence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former President George W. Bush.
It was bipartisanship and societal healing that appeared to be the theme of Mr. Biden’s speech, as he vowed to unite all Americans to fight the foes they faced, of “Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness”.
To the world, he committed to lead “by the power of our example”.
It was a demonstration of not only power but political intent when, on his first day in office, Mr. Biden expediently reversed a range of Trump-era actions by issuing 17 executive orders and directives to cancel the U.S.’s exit from the Paris Climate Agreement and WHO, include non-citizens in the census count, protect immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme from heightened risk of deportation, revoke the “Remain in Mexico” policy, halt construction of the infamous southern border wall and end the egregious “Muslim ban”.
While these decisive actions may have felt like a balm to Democrats, he would do well to remember, as he goes about dismantling the Trump legacy, that 74 million people voted for his opponent, and Mr. Trump has encouraged them to believe that the election was stolen.
If the Capitol building attack was an indication of the unhinged rage seething below the ostensibly peaceful transfer of power, it may not be long before the America of economically disenchanted white privilege again rears its head in a manner that today’s political victors find unsavoury.
The fact that the White House, Senate and House of Representatives are now firmly in the grip of Democrats should not be cause for giving up on bipartisan moderation. Or else Mr. Biden’s search for a more perfect Union may take longer.