Jan 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden embarks on a consequential presidency


Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump tried everything to delegitimize the rival who vanquished him. In reality, he's set Joe Biden on course to be a far more consequential U.S. president than he might otherwise have become.

The big picture: President Biden now confronts not just a pandemic, but massive political divisions and an assault on truth — and the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol two weeks ago that threatened democracy itself.

  • In his inaugural address, Biden called on Americans to end "this uncivil war."
  • Only through unity, he said, can the nation defeat domestic terrorism, political extremism, white supremacy, disinformation, threats to democracy — and the pandemic.
  • Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 49th vice president — the first woman, Black American or South Asian American to hold the nation's second highest office. The first Latina on the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, administered the oath of office.
  • Biden was sworn in as the 46th president — with his hand on a Bible that's been in his family since 1893 — by Chief Justice John Roberts.
biden swearing in. Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Driving the news: The inauguration was peaceful — and even normal.

  • Despite intense concerns about security threats — and with massive additional security protocols in place — Biden went ahead with delivering his speech outdoors in an effort to project strength and normalcy after the attack.
  • "Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path," Biden said. "Let's start afresh," he exhorted Americans, and asked his political opponents to at least "hear me out."
jill and joe. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Getty Images
Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Getty Images

Between the lines: By claiming massive election fraud and theft where there was none, Trump triggered constitutional, disinformation, free speech and national security crises Biden has inherited.

  • By approaching COVID-19 as a political rather than scientific challenge, Trump fueled a pandemic that's killed 400,000 and strangled the economy.

Since losing the election, Trump spent two months repeating the lie that it was fraudulent or stolen.

  • He filed lawsuits to try to block the results.
  • He stalled cooperation on the transition.
  • He whipped up supporters at a Jan. 6 rally, which spun off a deadly insurrection by rioters seeking to block Biden's win.

That triggered Trump's second impeachment by the House, and a pending trial in the Senate that hangs over his post-presidency.

  • On his final day, Trump skipped town early rather than welcoming the new president to the White House.
President Trump boards Air Force One for the last time as commander in chief. He and First Lady Melania Trump flew to Florida. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images
Trump boards Air Force One for the last time as commander in chief. He and First Lady Melania Trump flew to Florida. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Be smart: Biden, 78, was written off early by some critics during the crowded Democratic primary as an instant one-termer who would be too white to reflect America, too old to shape his party's future, too centrist for modern politics and too consensus-driven to be a strong executive.

  • In working to prove the critics wrong, he'll draw on the lessons of some of the greatest American presidents faced with protecting the nation from destructive forces not only on the outside but within.
  • Borrowing a phrase from Abraham Lincoln when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Biden said, "My whole soul is in this, bringing America together."
biden Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
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