Wednesday’s ceremony at the Capitol certainly marked the inauguration of a new president. But it was also a call for every American to inaugurate — in that word’s sense of bringing about a new beginning of — a shared responsibility for the nation’s future.
There is no question that many millions of Americans will disagree — in many cases vehemently — with policies and initiatives President Biden will seek to implement now that he’s been sworn into office. In his clear-eyed inaugural address Wednesday, he acknowledged as much, asking of those who didn’t support his election at least to “hear us out” and “take a measure of me and my heart.” But with a full-throated call for dignity, decency and respect for one another, he urged all Americans, even when they disagree, to end what he aptly called the “uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.”
Surely every newly inaugurated chief executive comes into office citing unprecedented challenges facing the country that must be met. The striking contrast in Biden’s approach from that of his predecessor was the humility of his acknowledgement, not that he alone could solve them, but that solutions could come only with “the most elusive of all things in a democracy — unity.”
The road ahead for President Biden is indeed a difficult one. Leading the country through the pandemic, getting the economy back on its feet and pressing the march toward racial justice would be a full plate for any incoming administration, and those are only the issues that moved to the head of the line within the last year and don’t include many other pressing and contentious domestic and international issues Biden faces. And he’s realistic enough to know there’ll be much disagreement about how to address them and, if progress is to be made on them, much compromise with those many of his supporters disagree with.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Wednesday’s ceremony, coming as it did just two weeks after the shocking, riotous storming of the Capitol by those seeking to overturn the nation’s will, was its calming reminder of the resilience of American’s institutions, that all three branches of government remain committed to the rule of law and a peaceful transfer of power.
But it was also an important reminder of the progress and possibility that is America. Certainly, the inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first woman, the first Black and first Asian American to be vice president is powerful testament to the country’s promise of opportunity for all. And Biden’s stepping into the presidency was itself evidence of this: His inauguration as the nation’s second Catholic president received little comment compared to the consternation of many that preceded John Kennedy’s inauguration as the first exactly 60 years ago.
President Biden’s inauguration served as a reminder that the American story is, in his words Wednesday, one of “decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.” Yet continuing the story is not on him alone. Disagree we most surely will, but it’s up to each of us that disagreement not divide us.