By Miriam Raftery
Photos: screenshots via C-Span
January 21, 2021 (Washington D.C.) – Under the heaviest security since the Civil War, one week after a violent attack on our nation’s Capitol, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office on January 20.
It was a day of historic firsts. Harris is the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to become Vice President. Her husband, who is Jewish,became First Gentleman. The nation’s youngest Poet Laureate, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, delivered a powerful rendition of her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, a message of unity, healing and courage written after she witnessed the insurrection at the Capitol.
Chief Justice John Roberts swore in President Biden. In his inaugural speech, Biden said the day represents “A day of history and hope” adding, “Democracy has prevailed. So now on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”
He thanked former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for their presence and former President Jimmy Carter, who was unable to attend but sent a message of support. President Donald Trump refused to attend, but his Vice President, Mike Pence, was present.
Biden noted that America has made progress “over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and in war…but we still have far to go. We will press forward with speech and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.”
He then named the major challenges his administration faces.
He held a moment of silent prayer for the 400,000 Americans who have perished from the worst virus in a century, which has “taken as many lives in a year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will no longer be deferred. A cry for survival from the planet itself…And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”
To overcome those challenges and restore the soul and future of America will require “that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity,” Biden said. Evoking the words of Abraham Lincoln when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Biden said,, “My whole soul is in this: bringing America together.”
He urged all Americans to join in fighting common enemies including anger and hatred, extremism, lawlessness and violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness. He called on Americans, as during the civil War, Great Depression, world wars and 9/11 to have our “better angels” prevail, treating others with dignity and respect.
He spoke in support of the right to dissent peacefully, if you disagree with him, but asked for people to first “hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart.” He pledged to be “a President for all Americans.”
Biden said he understands why many “worry about their jobs, about taking care of their families, about what comes next.” He urged all to show tolerance. “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.”
He pledged to repair alliances with our allies to be a “strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.”
He pledged transparency. “I will always level with you,” he said, adding that he will defend the Constitution, democracy, America, and that he will serve not personal interest, but the public good. “Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and of healing, of greatness and of goodness,” the new President promised.
California’s former Senator, now Vice President Kamala Harris, was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotermayer. In her first speech as Vice President delivered later that evening, Harris offered optimism. “It is my honor to be here, to stand on the shoulders of those who came before, to speak tonight as your Vice President,” she began.
“In many ways this moment embodies our character as a nation. It demonstrates who we are, even in dark times. We not only dream, we do. We not only see what has been, we see what can be. We shoot for the moon and then we plant our flag on it. We are bold, fearless, and ambitious. We are undaunted in our belief that we shall overcome, that we will rise up. This is American aspiration,” Harris said.
She recalled the achievements of Lincoln and of Rev Martin Luther King Jr., as well as women who fought for equal rights and the founding fathers who authored the Bill of Rights. She praised the scientists and innovators transforming the future as well as teachers and parents nurturing the next generation.
“This, too, is American aspiration,” she concluded. “This is what President Joe Biden has called upon us to summon now. The courage to see beyond crisis, to do what is hard, to do what is good, to unite, t believe in ourselves, believe in our country, believe in what we can do together. Thank you and may God bless America.”
During the Inauguration, Lady Gaga performed the National Anthem, gesturing upward toward the Capitol flag as she sang, “The flag was still there.” Other singers included Jenifer Lopez performing “America the Beautiful” and country music star Garth Brooks singing “Amazing Grace.”
An inaugural ball was not held due to COVID-19. Istead, a "Celebrate America" virtual event was held featuring performances or other content from all 50 states.
In yet more historic firsts, the later swearing in of Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff gave the state its first African-American and first Jewish Senators; California's first Latino Senator, Alex Padilla, was also sworn in, giving Democrats control of the Senate. With a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, Vice President Harris can now cast tie-breaking votes.
View video of President Joe Biden’s inaugural address: https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2021/01/20/joe-biden-inauguration-speech-vpx.cnn
Read full text of Biden’s inaugural address: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/01/20/inaugural-address-by-president-joseph-r-biden-jr/
View Kamala Harris’ first speech as Vice President: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/watch-kamala-harris-makes-first-speech-as-vice-president-urges-country-to-see-beyond-the-crisis
Read full text of Vice President Kamala Harris’ speech on Inauguration Day: https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a35258292/kamala-harris-inauguration-speech/
View Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s reading of “The Hill We Climb”: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/politics/a35279603/amanda-gorman-inauguration-poem-the-hill-we-climb-transcript/
View the "Celebrate America" event with entertainment and content from all 50 states: https://youtu.be/u4HkM6WzmFY