Yesterday, I shared my thoughts on President Joe Biden’s inaugural address. Below are my annotations to the excerpts I highlighted yesterday, which I think are worth remembering and discussing at greater length.
We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed. From now on this hallowed ground, where just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the 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.
This excerpt of the address is worth highlighting because it memorializes the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol that took place just two weeks prior on January 6th. The January 6th insurrection will always be remembered in U.S. history moving forward. Because the insurrectionists were violent and attempting to thwart Congresspeople from counting the Electors’ votes for the 2020 presidential election (which is mainly ceremonial in nature), the insurrection is considered an event that indeed attempted to thwart democracy itself; also the first time in U.S. history an insurrection was instigated by the sitting president himself. While many of us are still trying to wrap our minds and hearts around what happened that day, future generations will indeed perceive the event as an extraordinary one that stands out in U.S. history.
The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.
Biden ran his presidential campaign on promises to ensure racial justice and a more equitable America— starting at the highest levels of office in the land. And this is a promise that he is likely to fulfill as he has already selected Kamala Harris as his Vice President and has selected many individuals with diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, as well as many women, to serve in cabinet positions and other important roles within his administration. This line is also likely a nod at Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem.
The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.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. Unity.
Biden is not only calling for Americans to unite but to unite to overcome challenges of white supremacy and extremism. No other president has mentioned the need to overcome white supremacy specifically in an inaugural address before, which in and of itself speaks a lot to where we are as a nation in this particular period of time and where Biden stands on the issue. (Fact Check: Newsweek)
In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote: “If my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.” My whole soul was in it today. On this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.
Biden and others referred to Abraham Lincoln and his legacy throughout the inauguration ceremony for a very specific reason: Lincoln kept the country united in spite of the Civil War that was caused in large part by cruel and systemically racist economic practices. In his speech here, Biden reminds Americans where he stands with all of his soul, which has the same conviction of the president over a century ago who also ensured our union remained during the Civil War. Elsewhere in Biden’s speech, he reminds Americans that they have always accomplished more when they appeal to the better angels of their nature (which Lincoln himself declares in his own inaugural address).
Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.
Again, Biden emphasizes the deep-rooted problem of racism in America and does not shy away from its real-world presence and challenges. However, he also recognizes that Americans should still continue to strive and struggle for their ideal America even if such an ideal sometimes seems fleeting. Its perenniality is what makes it idealistic and a dream— something to continue to reach for and maintain.
History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury. No progress — only exhausting outrage. No nation — only a state of chaos.
Again, this appeal to unity is consistent. And the words he uses are very relevant and specifically tied to the time era we are living in. They are also drastically different from the adversarial calls we had witnessed coming from Trump in previous years. To hear the word “peace” uttered again by a sitting president is refreshing.
We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.
Again, this echoes the calls for unity, and the legacy of Lincoln.
Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.
Partisan politics have become destructive and unproductive. Urging Americans to partake in civil discourse again, even when they disagree politically, is refreshing to hear and necessary for our democracy to continue to thrive. Personally, this is my favorite line in the speech.
Yet hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans. All Americans. And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.
Again, Biden echoes Lincoln, urging Americans to keep our union strong. He also takes a moment to speak to all Americans, not only those who supported him, in stark contrast to Trump.
Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.
With disinformation permeating all corners of the Internet and social media, this line is specifically relevant to the time period in which we’re living and should be memorialized. Much of our current state of political division in America is due to the reality that Americans are no longer agreeing on actual facts (i.e. scientific, about events or statements made, historical events, etc.) due to disinformation campaigns spearheaded by some of America’s top political and economic leaders, international operatives trying to thwart democracy, or anyone who has access to a social media account who wants to instigate chaos for that matter.
I understand that many of my fellow Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. I understand they worry about their jobs. I understand, like my dad, they lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering: Can I keep my health care? Can I pay my mortgage? Thinking about their families, about what comes next. I promise you, I get it.
This line illustrates Biden’s deep empathy toward “regular” Americans, which again, we haven’t seen in years.
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment, stand in their shoes. Because here’s the thing about life: There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days when you need a hand. There are other days when we’re called to lend a hand. That’s how it has to be.
The line “We must end this uncivil war” got the most attention and media coverage by far, and stood out as perhaps the most memorable line of this speech. It again echoes Lincoln, and also captures the state of our current politics and union: uncivil. And Biden emphasizes here that the only way to gain our civility back is to see one another as human beings again and to empathize with one another. He also does this after he himself displays sincere empathy.
We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. One nation.
This line in the speech will be memorialized too because it highlights the pandemic. In addition to the insurrection, our country has also been facing challenges brought about by a deadly pandemic that has been around for almost a year now. Mentioning the pandemic in the speech designates its historical significance.
So here’s my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it.
Biden addresses the world in his speech in an attempt to begin to rectify America’s global standing and regard after Trump severed its relationships with traditional allies and left longstanding agreements with allies. It also made a clear statement that regardless of the insurrection that happened just weeks before, democracy is still carrying on.
(Source for speech copy: The Washington Post)
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