HI THEN, BIDEN : Notes From Joe Biden’s Inauguration


Trump is gone. So long, and thanks for all the fascism.

Yesterday marked the inauguration of Joe Biden as the USA’s 46th President. Trump left the White House at 8am, and left in his typical style – refusing to concede, refusing to refer to Joe Biden by his name, and wishing his followers “a good life,” before vowing to return.

We’d really rather you didn’t, Donald. Hopefully impeachment will see to that anyway – if the Senate moves to convict him, he can never run for office again.

Which means someone far worse might run instead.

But anyway, let’s not dwell on that. Whatever happens, we have four years at least of something vaguely resembling normality. This should be celebrated, so celebrate we shall. Crack open the bubbly (or the non-alcoholic version if you’re bold enough to do Dry January this year, of all years), sit back, relax, and be thankful to your god that the president who amounted to little more than a sack of racist sausage meat piped into a tangerine skin-suit is gone.


WINTER CHILLS

Yesterday had a curious feel to it. Obama’s inauguration felt like an explosion of catharticism, with American citizens of multiple races, faiths and backgrounds openly weeping. Trump’s felt like bad dream. But Biden’s had a sense of apprehensive relief washed over it.

While yes, Trump is gone, Biden’s task is no easy one. Over 400,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus and counting. A flatlined economy. Racial tensions at their worst in decades. Armed militias threatening civil war. It’s an in-tray from the depths of hell itself, and Biden knows it.

Despite this, the day was still full of optimism. The weather, sensing an opportunity, decided to go all teenage art-student and become a fully-blown metaphor. Cold winds and snow buffeted the Capitol building, now besieged by former Presidents’ egos rather than conspiracy theorists. Despite the inclement weather, the line-up was a pretty incredible window into recent history, as they always are.

Michelle Obama looked incredible, obviously, and her husband (Barry something?) looked dapper as all hell, too. George W. Bush looked older but dignified (remember when we thought that he was a moronic president?), Bill Clinton looked gaunt, and Mike Pence looked like the kid at the birthday party who had to be invited, but who has never been popular on account of his penchant for shaving cats.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate who has been prominently critical of Trump since the Capitol attack, was present, as was Ted Cruz, who is still a Trump supporter, and who wore a mask saying “Come and Get It.” The sooner politics is rid of that supine toad, the better.

The pomp and ceremony was in as full a swing as it could be – the millions of Americans that would usually attend replaced by flags and all guests socially-distanced. Trump, if he were able to Tweet, would probably have chimed in with some stupid bollocks like, “Not the same numbers as my inauguration. The People love the OLD President!!! Fav Prez. SAD.” Thankfully, he wasn’t, so he didn’t. In fact, he was off in Florida at a party, probably enjoying his last days of freedom before he’s indicted for crimes against his country.

The military band played through all the hits, the trumpeters playing with their masks pulled down to their chins. Presumably, if one of the trumpeters were infectious, blasting out a banging version of “The Star Spangled Banner” would make the trumpet itself some kind of face-loaded coronavirus canon.

But anyway. They were probably all fine.

A couple of hitches aside, such as Ron Blunt’s microphone positioning looking like he was motorboating a miniature robo-Madonna:

…the ceremony started smoothly.

Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, the first ever “Second Gentleman of the United States,” emerged onto the podium looking every bit the part of the history they were about to make. President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill followed them soon after, and, I’m not going to lie, watching Joe Biden walk down stairs is an alarmingly heart-in-mouth affair.

Leo O’Donovan, the priest who presided over the funeral of Biden’s son, Beau, gave a moving sermon, and Biden himself looked quite close to tears. But then it was time for some star power.

Who else but Gaga.

By her standards, Lady Gaga was quite dressed-down for the occasion, wearing a black top with enormous gold brooch, and a billowy red dress/tutu/thing (I’m not good with ladies’ fashion. Or men’s fashion, actually). This prompted my Mum to quietly remark, “She looks like a loo roll holder,” and then Gaga took hold of her golden microphone and belted out the national anthem.

A prominent Democrat supporter, she looked thrilled to be there. It’s worth noting at this stage that Trump is reportedly furious with how many celebrities were a part of Biden’s inauguration and subsequent party. For his inauguration, he got something like Boyz 2 Men, Smash Mouth and Barry from Eastenders.

By contrast, Tom Hanks hosted the party that was shown after Biden’s inauguration.

Then came the inauguration of Kamala Harris as the US’s female and mixed-heritage Vice President. It was at that moment that the weather, with a pique of dramatic flair, suddenly changed to glorious sunshine.

It was quite the moment. Perhaps it’s best described by Harris’ words herself following the election victory being declared – she may be the first, but she won’t be last.

And, from one queen to another, J-Lo took to the stage next. She belted out a medley that started with “This Land Is Your Land,” which was a bit odd for me as it was the first thing I learned to play on the banjo.

You might want to turn your speakers or headphones down.

As you can imagine, her version was better. She also spoke in Spanish to the millions of Latino Americans watching, which was quite something to behold at a President’s inauguration.

And then came the moment. Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and only slightly looked like he was forgetting the lines to repeat as they were read out. After a brief, weird pause (they were running ahead of schedule, and it’s not the swearing in that make him president – turning midday local time does, for some reason), he stood up to make his maiden speech as President.

And what a speech it was.


A TIME FOR HEALING… ONCE WE STOP DYING

The sun, fully embracing its role as a metaphor, showered Biden in wintery sunlight. The wind remained, which caught his thinning hair, and the sunshine made it look like some vanilla candyfloss was stuck to his head. But Biden had a message, and no amount of cranially-mounted confectionary would stop him.

The word unity was used in almost every sentence. The last four years have divided America in ways not seen in a generation. Biden set out his stall, and, indeed, his soul, to bringing America back together again. He called for healing, restoration and reunification, and vowed that America would face the coronavirus together.

He vowed to be a President for all Americans, and to end “The Uncivil War.”

He lamented those who used lies to sell their stories, and urged Americans to listen to the truth, rather than fabrications. It is clear that the “fake news” craze and conspiracy theories that have dogged democracy for the last few years will be challenged from the outset by the Biden administration.

He made a global pitch to America’s allies around the world, not least the UK, saying that the US would reestablish itself as a paragon of democracy and liberty. “America has been tested,” he said, “And we have come out stronger for it.” Perhaps the most stirring aspect of the speech from an international relations point of view was the brilliant turn of phrase, “We will lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

Give the speechwriter an Emmy – that is sterling work.

Biden was passionate, articulate and stirring. A true boon for American democracy, just when it needed it most. Yes, towards the end of the speech he tired a touch and some slurring of words appeared, but it is clear that this is a man who is fully intending to rally the “firebrand” label he received over many decades as a senator.

Whether or not he has the stamina we will have to wait and see. But, if his first executive actions are anything to go by (rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, reversing the withdrawal from the WHO, etc), he’s got the bit between his teeth.

For some reason Garth Brooks came out to sing Amazing Grace, which was odd. But then 22 year-old Amanda Gordon, the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, delivered a ten minute poem about unity, and it was staggeringly good. Her mastery of English was spectacular and her message on point. Expect to see her name up in lights over the next few years.

Finally, to deliver the benediction, Rev. Dr. Sylvester Beaman delivered a prayer straight from a Gospel Church. “HALLELUJAH,” he cried.

After watching what looked like something close to sanity regaining the White House, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person around the world agreeing with him. Hallelujah, indeed.


A NEW DAWN

All of that being said, we cannot be too excited about Joe Biden.

He isn’t that same firebrand he once was, though his passion and heart still clearly remain. He takes over as a Democratic president, but his party is split into two camps much like the UK’s Labour Party – the moderates, like him, and the harder-left, like Bernie Sanders, Alexadria Ocasio-Cortez and the like.

Biden will be loathe to implement anything close to socialist policies as there is simply little stomach for it in the rural heartlands of the United States. He has vowed to be a president for all Americans and I believe he will try to stick to his word.

This isn’t to say he won’t implement his own ideologies, however. His vision for America depends on helping the worst off, and after four years of total free-market capitalism and the vast enrichment of the 1%, a division of wealth is needed across the country. What’s more, the Democrats now control the presidency, the senate, and congress, making legislation far easier than the gridlock that Obama faced during his two terms in office.

But, first things first, his in-tray. Tackling coronavirus once and for all, repairing the economy, battling climate change that has ravaged states like California, impeaching Trump. He’s got his hands full, and whether or not he will be fully up to the task remains to be seen.

There is no doubting, however, that Joe Biden Jr. is a good man. He is principled, compassionate and driven, an anathema to Trump’s divisive rhetoric. However he does, the principles behind his actions are in the right place.

The rest of the world wishes him well – he will need it.


I’ll leave you with one final image. As Biden was giving his speech yesterday, and as he became president, a lone marine sat by the grave of Biden’s deceased son, Beau. Biden has suffered huge loss and tragedy in his life, yet he remains true to the principles that guide him.

That alone makes him a far better president than Donald J Trump could ever hope to be.