NEW CHAPTER The eyes of the world are on Joe Biden as he takes over and moves on from his divisive predecessor. Pic: Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore
Statesmanship returns to the Whitehouse, and with it, optimism
HIS whole ethos may be steeped in his Irish roots – the Blewitts from Ballina, the Finnegans from Co Louth – but Joseph Robinette Biden Junior last week became a president for all the people. Alongside Vice-President Kamala Harris, he is now a president for black people, hispanics, African-Americans, American Indians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Catholics, evangelists, Quakers. The list goes on.
Unlike his divisive predecessor, Donal Trump, the newly inaugurated 46th President of the United States clearly intends to do what presidents should do.
His entire inauguration speech was characteristically low-key, gentle but, importantly, statesmanlike. It aimed to heal and not divide and left much of the world breathing a huge sigh of relief.
“This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day … Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation.”
Isn’t that quite simply what we expect our political leaders to do? We certainly don’t expect them to incite hatred and division or, indeed, manipulate a mob of people to storm our houses of parliament.
Shortly before noon on January 20, President Joe Biden placed his hand on a battered Bible that had been in his family for generations, its cover carved with a Celtic cross, and he repeated an oath to faithfully execute his duties.
Whilst the storming of the Capitol on January 6 had left the entire area around Capitol Hill like a military zone, and the restrictions due to the pandemic had meant the public could not throng to this historic event, its solemnity was celebrated with 200,000 US flags – an installation called The Field of Flags – flapping in a gentle breeze and under a flurry of snow stretching right back to the Lincoln Memorial.
“Democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” Biden’s gentle voice was like a balm as he called on fellow American to ‘set our sights on the nation we could be’.
He didn’t need to mention the previous incumbent, who unsurprisingly had broken a long tradition and was not sitting alongside three other former presidents – Clinton, Bush and Obama – on the podium.
Donald Trump had already left the White House for the last time for his Florida resort in Mar-a-Lago, a Senate impeachment trial in the offing.
Meanwhile, Biden urged: “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes.”
How his own personal experiences of tragedy resonated in this simple observation: “There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you.”
In that short reflective comment we could all conjure that moving photograph of a young Joe Biden being sworn in as a senator for the first time on January 5, 1973. He was in a Wilmington hospital where his two young sons, Beau and Hunter were recovering from the car crash in which his first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, were killed.
Almost 50 years later, having served eight years as vice-president and already made two unsuccessful bids for the presidency, this septuagenarian has already proven his public service.
Perhaps, it is the broad personal and political experience of life that will now help heal a divided nation. Perhaps too, it is his inherited sense of survival from his Irish forebears, who escaped the Great Famine and the other challenges of the 19th century, that will stand by President Joe Biden during these difficult times.
Best of luck from Co Mayo, Mr President.