‘Democracy has Prevailed’: Joe Biden Takes Power

As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office, America once again has a chance to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” and reinstate trust in global affairs.

Lisa Van Dusen

January 20, 2021

That massive whooshing sound you heard Wednesday just before noon was the collective sigh of relief heard around the world as Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States. It was a moment that turned the page on the strangest political interlude in the epic of American history and marked the climax of a personal journey that ranks among the most remarkable in US politics.

“Democracy has prevailed,” Biden noted in his inaugural address. “America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.”

While the event itself was a logistical anomaly, circumscribed in scale by the public health demands of an ongoing pandemic and the exceptional security required two weeks after a mob breached the Capitol, it did the job constitutionally as America moved beyond the surreal, toxic presidency of Donald Trump.

President Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts at 11:48 am as the sun beamed on the Capitol steps. Earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman, first Black person and first Southeast Asian to serve in the role, was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the country’s highest court.

Among the immediate impacts of the Biden presidency will be the return of grown-up governance to the White House: A president and vice president who’ll behave like a president and vice president rather than a cartoonishly co-dependent reality show couple; senior administration officials who’ll use their platforms not to divide and outrage but to govern in the best interests of the people; press briefings that will include the imparting of fact with conventionally intermittent self-serving spin to journalists labouring unburdened by a relentless assault on truth from the lectern. Somehow, after all the shocks inflicted on a cognitively captive world from the White House over the past four years, it seems safe to say the assonant disruption of sudden normalcy won’t feel traumatic.

For Canada and other key US allies, today marks the reinstatement of trust as the default assumption in America’s bilateral and multilateral relations. For four years, the Canadian government and its diplomats were in the exotic position of having to engage around the perpetual irritant and unprecedented static of an American president who told more than 30,000 lies over his time in office. That Ottawa finessed that problem sufficiently to negotiate NAFTA II and avoid any permanent damage during Trump’s tenure ranks as a Canadian strategic triumph.

Wednesday’s abrupt end to the hourly, tactical infantilization of the American presidency, of politics and of democracy has a symmetry to it. In his first inaugural address in January, 2009, Barack Obama framed the moment — the swearing-in of America’s first Black president before a euphoric horde stretching from the Capitol out past the Washington monument to the Lincoln Memorial two lifetimes after the Emancipation Proclamation — as not a revolutionary moment but an evolutionary one.

“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things,” Obama said. “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

That a backlash ensued surprised precisely no-one; not those of us who were there that day, not the people who spent Obama’s presidency seething and the Trump presidency settling scores by violently swinging the pendulum back and beyond to unbelievably childish things. As Obama himself said in his bestselling autobiography, A Promised Land, “It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted. Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.”

Biden is the most loss-annealed, tragedy fluent, epigenetically empathetic commander in chief since the post-polio Franklin Roosevelt.

Now, once again, America needs a president who can — to quote the second inaugural address etched on the Indiana limestone inside the Lincoln Memorial — “bind up the nation’s wounds”, no less because so many of them have been both avoidable and inflicted by an operatically unpatriotic commander in chief.

That Biden should be that president carries such a sense of the man matching the moment partly because — like Winston Churchill possessing the precise kismet of character and qualification needed to face the crucible of WWII — it comes in the autumn of a life whose personal traumas, professional trials and leadership tests have informed a worldview and psychological skill set seemingly customized for this existential crisis.

At an unprecedented time of mass mortality from a pandemic genocidally amplified by his predecessor’s incompetence, Biden is the most loss-annealed, tragedy fluent, epigenetically empathetic commander in chief since the polio-stricken Franklin Roosevelt. And, at a moment when the aggressive, performative and substantive damage done to America’s leadership brand worldwide requires reversing, Biden is a known, trusted, competent and authentic quantity who can reassure allies and let rivals and rogues know the circus has, for the most part, left town.

Domestically, Biden’s plea for national unity is more than rhetorical. Among the many elements of America’s national character that have been dissected, isolated, transmuted from strengths into weaknesses and from weaknesses into existential threats by interests committed to the country’s decline as an indispensable condition of global democratic obliteration, partisanship is near the top of the list. The partisanship commodified by Fox News two decades ago, leveraged for intractability and paralysis over the past decade and whipped into insurrection under Trump is now a systemic threat. That makes it an asset for interests whose adoption of division as a form of conquest is so predictable it has become an anti-democracy branding element. Hyperpartisanship is no longer a subjective notion or a bogeyman for centrists. As recent events have shown, it has become a national security issue.

The dawn of this presidency doesn’t just mark a return to normalcy, it marks the end of an occupation of the White House and a colonization of America’s daily narrative by goons operating against the best interests of their own country, of their fellow citizens and of democracy. Given the weapons of at play — disinformation, misdirection, emotionally manipulative propaganda, industrialized untruths and a number of other corrupt, covert shenanigans – there likely won’t be a visible retreat by the orchestrators of Trump’s four-year hijacking of America’s reality.

But the repatriation Wednesday of the presidential bully pulpit by a good man is — in this particular war — a game changing victory.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.