Joseph Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, entering office on the heels of a turbulent period marked by a global pandemic, deepening economic crisis and racial reckoning across the country.
Just two weeks after violent pro-Trump rioters seeking to overturn the election mobbed the Capitol, Biden called inauguration day proof that “democracy has prevailed.”
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. Today we celebrate a triumph not of a candidate but of the cause, the cause of democracy,” he said in his inauguration speech.
Biden, 78, is the oldest president in U.S. history, having served for more than 40 years in Washington D.C., first as a senator from Delaware before acting as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years.
His campaign platform promised a return of decency, respect and integrity coupled with a great reverence for the United States’ history and its formidable institutions. Many of those same things rang throughout his speech.
“This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we’ve come so far,” Biden said. “But we still have far to go.”
Kamala Harris, who hails from the Bay Area and broke numerous barriers in her meteoric rise in California politics before becoming senator, was also sworn in as vice president. She becomes the first woman, the first Black person and the first Indian-American to hold that office.
“Don’t tell me things can’t change,” Biden said of her historic election.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed described her feelings watching the historic swearing in of Harris as “overwhelming.”
“I join millions of women across the country in finally seeing a woman take the oath for one of the highest offices in the country. I join millions of Black women across this country in seeing Vice President Harris take a seat at the table that so many have fought to secure for so long,” Breed said. “I am so proud of our new vice president, and I know she will be a relentless fighter for all people because she is committed to doing the work day in and day out.”
Ordinarily, the inauguration occurs in front of tens of thousands of spectators lining the National Mall.
But amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 people in this country, the usual festivities were scaled down. Attendance was limited to about 1,000 people, but there were musical performances from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.
Poet Amanda Gorman, 22, recited her original poem, “The Hill We Climb.” It served as a reminder of collectivism in a time of bitter division and identified commonalities over differences without ignoring the trauma of the pandemic, structural racism and, most recently, the insurrection on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated,” her poem read.
Biden cautioned Americans that the darkest and deadliest period of the pandemic could still be ahead, but rallied those listening to “set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”
Three former presidents were in attendance: Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Conspicuously absent was outgoing president Donald Trump, who departed Washington D.C. earlier in the day for his home in Florida. He was the first president to forego his successor’s inauguration ceremony since 1869, disrespecting the hallowed national tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.
Former Vice President Mike Pence did attend, even sharing a laugh with his successor before departing.
Biden’s speech issued a call for unity and an invitation for a fresh start.
“We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors,” he said. “Without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”
The president also acknowledged the rife culture of misinformation that’s taken over much of today’s political rhetoric, a reality hard to ignore with more than 25,000 National Guard troops deployed to protect the Capitol from more potential attacks.
“We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured,” he said.
On their first days in office, Biden and Harris are expected to take swift action to support a $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief package through Congress as well as begin efforts on immigration reform, overturning the travel ban on some Muslim countries and make climate change a priority.
Many of the issues likely to be tackled at the national level could have real consequences for California, and Gov. Gavin Newsom made clear his intention to partner with the new administration in these ambitious efforts.
“California stands ready to be a full partner to the Biden-Harris administration as they tackle some of the most challenging crises of the generation: restoring our nation’s promise and reasserting our leadership on the global stage – all while working to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end, advance our economic recovery and build back better,” he said.
Local leaders responded to the swearing in of Biden and Harris with relief, hope and optimism for the future.
“A huge weight was just lifted from our nation and the world. We can now get to solving problems instead of creating them,” state Sen. Scott Wiener said. President Biden and Vice President Harris will lead us out of this pandemic, out of this economic collapse, and away from the poison that Donald Trump empowered. I’m optimistic about what the future holds.”