CHANGE OF BATON IN AMERICA:
Exit the Showman; Enter the Statesman
By Austin Inyang
“Democracy is fragile,’ said the new US President, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. at his inauguration speech in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 20. “But today, democracy has prevailed.”
It was not the peaceful and seamless transfer of power that we’ve come to expect from America in the past, but it was a transfer, fnevertheless. Biden’s swearing in as the 46th President of the United States brings to a dramatic close a turbulent political season unlike any that has gone before – no thanks to the peculiar brand of politics espoused and promoted by his predecessor, President Donald Trump, which culminated in the unprecedented sacking of the US Capitol, the citadel of American democracy, by Trump’s supporters in response to the former President’s unsupported claims about the recent presidential elections in November 2020. The ceremony itself, Biden said, was a victory, not for a single candidate or party, but for the cause of democracy, not just in America but around the world.
Indeed, the tone of the change of guards in the world’s most powerful country was set well before the President’s address. Performances by the likes of artists Jon Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga, as well as the young poet Amanda Gorman reminded Americans and the watching world of the pain and grief of a nation suffering the ravages of the Covid 19 pandemic – which has claimed over 400,000 American lives -, an economic recession which has led to massive job losses, and the rise in racial tensions and violence by extremist groups on both the right and the left, but also the glorious promise of America, a nation borne from the human desire for freedom from oppression, for economic opportunity, and for religious liberty.
The event was also a victory for the cause of gender equality, as it marked the first time a woman was being sworn in as Vice-President. Kamala Harris, who until recently was the junior senator from California, also makes history as the first Black and first Asian person to be in that position in the long and eventful history of the US, as she becomes the country’s 49th VP.
At 78 years of age, Biden also makes history as the oldest-ever US President, and the second adherent of the Catholic faith to be elected into the nation’s highest office (the first being John F. Kennedy back in the early 1960s). For Biden, it is the final lap in a long political journey that began in 1972 when he was surprisingly elected a senator from the state of Delaware at the tender age of 29. It is a journey that has been marked by triumph (such as his successes in the senate, where he served with increasing clout and influence for over three decades, before becoming Vice-President for eight years under former President Barack Obama). But it also been marked by tragedy; shortly after his election, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident in which he and his two sons were injured. In 2015, one of those sons, Beau Biden (who was serving as the attorney-general of Delaware) succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 46. Biden first ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency in 1988, and then in 2008, before being named by Obama as his running mate.
Nobody – least of all Biden himself – could have foreseen the circumstances under which his dream would finally come to pass. After a contentious election whose results the incumbent refused to accept – coupled with the social and economic impact of the pandemic as well as the polarization of American society -:Biden and Harris have their work cut out for them. How they set about their task will determine the fate of America and rest of the world.
And Biden looks set for the task – going by his first remarks as President, in which he called for unity and a sense of common purpose among Americans. He urged them to reject the extreme partisanship and divisive politics of Pres. Trump. ” … The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you, or worship like you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do. We must end this uncivil war that pits red versus blue. Rural versus urban. Conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls, instead of harden our hearts.”
It is an admonition his fellow Americans, and its political class, as well as the political class in nations across the world, will do well to heed.
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