Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in yesterday as the 46th president of the United States of America encircled by an eight-foot-high steel fence and 25,000 national guardsmen.
The customary throngs of supporters and well-wishers as well as diplomatic and other officials were greatly reduced, replaced in large measure by a sea of 200,000 American flags planted on the Mall honoring the nearly 400,000 American lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, some performances made the cut: a powerful rendition of the national anthem by cultural icon Stefani Germanotta, (aka) Lady Gaga; a medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” by pop artist Jennifer Lopez; and the American Black anthem “Amazing Grace” delivered a cappella by country music legend, Garth Brooks. And, America’s first young poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, read her specially composed inauguration poem embodying America’s aspiration for better.
There was no post-inauguration Congressional lunch, and only an abbreviated walk into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While the new president and vice-president reviewed a short march by of troops, there was no review of civic and military bands by the new first family and their invited guests in front of the White House, a tradition dating to 1881.
Instead, a televised virtual parade showcasing America’s communities followed in the late afternoon after the laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by President Biden and Vice President Harris.
There were no inauguration balls to mark the start of a new administration.
Former President Donald Trump, nursing grudges over his election loss, did not attend the inauguration as is customary and left the nation’s capital having never conceded the election and never uttering the name of his successor.
Yesterday marked some notable American firsts.
Joe Biden, who, until this year, held the record for the youngest person ever elected to the US Senate, became the oldest man ever sworn into the office of the president.
His vice president, Kamala Harris, became the first female vice president. And she is the first vice president to have been educated at a historically Black university. It will be difficult for Caribbean people not to take satisfaction from her Jamaican heritage.
Biden began his inauguration day as per the tradition of past presidents, attending a church service accompanied by family members. He was also accompanied by invited senior leaders of both political parties.
In his inaugural address, Biden sought to lower the temperature of public discourse and to restore the civility and dignity expected of those in high office. He called for healing, unity and truth. Quoting President Lincoln, he committed his “whole soul” to bringing America together again.
The new president promised to govern for the benefit of all Americans, to promote racial harmony, and to enhance the fight to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
We expect that among his first actions will be addressing the divisive immigration policies of his predecessor that left “Dreamers” with no clear path to citizenship and that caused the separation of thousands of children from their families at the southwestern border.
Critically, Biden committed to repairing America’s foreign alliances. This foreshadows reversals of several aspects of Trump’s isolationist foreign policy. We fully expect that amongst early reversals will be America rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and a halt to its exit from the World Health Organization.
Reversing trade policies to the pre-Trump era will likely prove more difficult given the popularity of Trump’s “America First” philosophy across party lines and amongst American manufacturers.
The Bahamas stands to benefit from the curbing of the pandemic in the United States, so critical to our own recovery is that country’s recovery and growth.
We may similarly benefit from America’s return to and support of international climate change initiatives that recognize the vulnerabilities of small island states.
And we hope that Biden’s pledge to greater international engagement will bring a new American envoy to our shores.