Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States on Wednesday, offering a message of unity and restoration to a deeply divided country reeling from a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building, Biden called for a return to civic decency in an inaugural address marking the end of Trump’s tempestuous four-year term.
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity,” Biden, a Democrat, said after taking the oath of office.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this – if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
The themes of Biden’s 21-minute speech mirrored those he had put at the center of his presidential campaign, when he portrayed himself as an empathetic alternative to the divisive Trump, a Republican.
He had promised immediate action, and shortly after entering the White House on Wednesday afternoon he began signing a raft of executive actions to overturn some of Trump’s most controversial policies.
The orders included mandating masks on federal property, rejoining the Paris climate accord, and ending Trump’s travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries.
Biden told reporters after the signings that Trump had left him “a very generous letter” but he would not disclose its contents until he had spoken to Trump.
The inauguration itself, one unlike any other in U.S. history, served as a stark reminder of both the tumult that defined the Trump era as well as the pandemic that still threatens the country.
Amid warnings of possible renewed violence, thousands of armed National Guard troops circled the Capitol in an unprecedented show of force. The National Mall, typically packed with throngs of supporters, instead was filled with nearly 200,000 U.S. flags. Attending dignitaries – including former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – wore masks and sat several feet apart.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, became the first Black person, first woman and first Asian American to serve as vice president after she was sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.