Just two weeks after a terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, watching the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration of 46th President Joseph R. Biden felt remarkably, maybe eerily, normal. But in truth, the day was anything but. As Biden’s motorcade made its way to the Capitol, the closed-off streets were lined with thousands of rifle-wielding National Guard troops, and the military band played to a limited audience of VIPs rather than the usual crowd of thousands. Plenty of extra security measures were taken in light of reports warning of potential new attacks, although things were thankfully relatively quiet in D.C. on Wednesday. And, of course, COVID put a damper on the usual celebrations: There will be no official inaugural balls, and tonight’s concert, featuring Bruce Springsteen and Katy Perry among others, will be virtual. Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. and Laura Bush, and others, walked into the ceremony wearing masks and social-distancing, rather than with the usual hugs and handshakes.
Despite the scaled-back inaugural events and a nation shaken by the recent insurrection, it is extraordinary how much has already changed for the better since Trump departed for Mar-A-Lago, without so much as an acknowledgement of the new President. The changes represent a dramatic departure from the violence, bleakness, and selfish crassness of the Trump administration. And while there are countless demons to battle, the day has given us — dare we say? — hope.
Not wasting any time, Biden is set to sign a historic 17 executive actions later today, which will be major reversals from Trump’s policies. Tackling COVID-19 is a major priority: Biden plans to create the position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator, who will report directly to the President. He also plans to launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” asking Americans to mask up for 100 days and leading by example in the federal government. And, he will issue an order requiring masks and social distancing in all federal buildings and by federal employees — quite the change from Trump’s COVID petri dish of a White House. Biden will also make sure the U.S. rejoins the World Health Organization, and will be sending Dr. Anthony Fauci as the head of delegation to its executive board meeting.
On COVID relief, Biden plans to extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. He also plans to ask the Department of Education to immediately consider extending the pause on interest and principal payments for federal student loans.
On climate change, the President intends to rejoin the Paris Agreement and roll back many of Trump’s anti-environmental actions.
Additionally, today Biden is set to launch a whole-government initiative to advance racial equity, preserve protections for Dreamers, reverse the unconstitutional Muslim ban, revoke Trump’s order that directed harsh and extreme immigration enforcement, stop border wall construction, and more. On top of that, he is ordering every appointee in the executive branch to sign an ethics pledge — a much-needed reversal of Trump’s corruption.
It is worth noting, too, that with the inauguration and all of the festivities of the days before, this administration has already set a wholly different tone from the last one — a humble, reverent one that appropriately addresses our solemn historic moment rather than a bombastic, self-serving one. There was no gloating, and certainly nothing like Trump's ostentatious display at the Republican National Convention. Instead, on Monday, the Presidential Inaugural Committee organized thousands of volunteers across the country in a National Day of Service celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff filled bags with groceries at Martha’s Table, a food bank in D.C.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee also held a nationwide COVID-19 memorial to honor the nearly 400,000 American lives that have been lost to the pandemic, which included illuminating 400 lights around the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Hundreds of cities and landmarks around the country joined in a national moment of unity on Tuesday evening, with buildings like the Empire State Building and Space Needle lighting up to honor the deceased. It was, remarkably, the first nationwide event of its kind to mourn those who have died of COVID-19, a moving and needed moment.
It is impossible, also, to overlook the significant firsts set forth by this administration, some of which were on display today. For one, the historic moment when Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to ever serve on the Supreme Court, swore in Vice President Kamala Harris — the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian in her position — on a pair of Bibles including first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s.
Then there was the performance from Amanda Gorman, who, at 22, is the youngest inaugural poet laureate ever. She encapsulated the experience beautifully, saying: "Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished... For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."
Biden himself was appropriately somber, but also forward-looking in his inaugural address. “Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy,” he said. “The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. We have learned that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile, and in this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
He also directly addressed the violence at the Capitol, referring to, “The rise of political extremism, domestic terrorism, and white supremacy that we must confront and defeat.” His address sent a unifying message, asking for Americans to “open our souls” and stand in each other’s shoes, making Trump’s apocalyptic address four years ago seem like a bad dream.
Biden, who took his presidential oath on a Bible that’s been in his family since the 1890s, quoted scripture in his speech’s conclusion, saying: “Joy cometh in the morning.” We can only hope he’s right.