108 years ago, suffragists marched on Inauguration Day in a bid to secure women’s right to vote. Today on January 20, 2021, the first female Vice President, Kamala Harris, was sworn into office. In January of 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free salves during the Civil War. As Joe Biden appeared in front of the Capitol Building to deliver his inaugural speech as the 46th US President, a similar sense of hope – we can only imagine – reverberated throughout the country and the world.
Throughout the President’s speech, he reminded the American people of the country’s past challenges: civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11. At the time of publishing, 402,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 in just 12 months. And this is expected to soon surpass the total number of deaths in all of World War II. In 2021, amid a climate crisis, continued systematic racism, domestic terrorism, political extremism and a once-in-a-century virus, Joe Biden’s call to action was clear: “Unity”.
“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 declared.
“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new. 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, demonisation have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.”
Furthermore, he made mention to the Capitol riot that shook the very ground where today, Biden delivered his speech. The 2020 election delivered a close finish with 306 electoral votes for the Democratic party and 232 for the Republicans and proved the divide across the United States was more polarising than ever. Biden insisted today he was a President “for all Americans.”
“To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent, peaceably, the guardrails of our republic, is perhaps this nation’s greatest strength.
“Yet hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion.”
“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 mum would say, just for a moment, stand in their shoes.”
Much of the world has watched America nervously since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. And in particular, watched the 2020 election with far more interest and investment than past terms. A collective sigh of relief has been felt around the world, with Biden also addressing those abroad.
“America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Watch the full speech below. A transcript of the speech can be found, here.