By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Staff writer
Under chilly conditions and a light snowfall Wednesday, the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States was one of the most unique and unusual in the nation’s history.
The tradition of a peaceful transition of power was conducted as scheduled, on the same Capitol steps where a deadly insurrection took place a mere two weeks ago. Because of the threat from extremist groups and those who still sought to somehow overturn the results of last November’s election, Washington resembled an armed fortress, with some 20,000 National Guard troops deployed.
The customary pomp and circumstance of the quadrennial formalities was muted by the ongoing COVID pandemic. The hundreds of thousands of spectators that fill the National Mall were absent to avoid spreading the virus, and the slate of celebratory evening balls became online programs to watch from the safety of home.
The inauguration was held amid a deeply divided political landscape that saw the outgoing president snub the ceremony and refuse to publicly utter his successor’s name.
And for the first time in the 244-year history of the United States, a woman now holds the office of vice-president.
Kamila Devi Harris, the former California senator and native of Oakland, took the oath of office shortly before Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was sworn in as the nation’s commander-in-chief.
Harris is the first person of African American and Asian heritage to become second in line to the presidency. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the Vice-presidential Oath of Office to Harris, who placed her hand on a Bible held by her husband, Doug Emhoff .
“When she takes the oath of office, little girls and boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said moments earlier.
The 56-year-old Harris is the daughter of immigrants who came to the U.S. to work for an education and build better lives. Her late mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan, came from India and became a breast cancer researcher. Her father, Donald, immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica to study economics.
Addressing the emotionally and politically charged atmosphere of the day, Klobuchar alluded to Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address of 1865, delivered in the midst of the Civil War, as well as the mob storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“This is the day when our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust and does what America always does — goes forward as a nation,” Klobuchar said.
Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who rose to national prominence after leading a violent mob away from the Senate chamber during the Jan. 6 riot, escorted Harris to the inauguration ceremony.
In his relatively brief speech following his swearing-in, Biden, 78, vowed to work toward bridging the political divide that widened under former president Donald Trump.
“Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause,” he said.
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton attended the inauguration. Due to health concerns, 96-year-old Jimmy Carter did not make the trip to Washington.
Trump broke precedent by skipping the event – the first outgoing president to do so in 152 years – after months of falsely claiming his defeat in the 2020 election was due to fraud.
“We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways, but the fact is we face them all at once,” Biden said, offering the remedy. “It’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And this is certain. I promise you we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.”
Lady Gaga delivered a stirring performance of the national anthem, and Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land.” Garth Brooks performed “Amazing Grace.”
Further history was made Wednesday when Los Angeles native Amanda Gorman served as the youngest-ever inaugural poet. Reading “The Hill We Climb,” which she composed on the night of the violent attack on the Capitol, the 22-year-old emphasized unity for the country.
“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one,” Gorman said.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it; would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”
The ceremony featured vigorous health and safety protocols, including face coverings and social distancing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, and the public was strongly encouraged to refrain from traveling to Washington, D.C. A field of American flags was placed in the National Mall to represent the many people who otherwise would have been there to watch the inauguration of the 46th president.
Other inaugural events also were converted to virtual happenings, including the “Parade Across America,” billed by the inaugural committee as featuring diverse, dynamic performances in communities in all 56 states and territories, celebrating America’s heroes, and highlighting the diversity, heritage and resilience of the nation.
The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles – described as the nation’s first all trans-identified chorus – was among the parade participants, as were Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers and Kathy Sledge.
Reactions to the transfer of power continued to roll in late Wednesday from elected officials across the nation.
“After four years of chaos, division, and mindless cruelty, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris offers a profound moment to turn the page, reflect on the challenges we face, and steel ourselves for the hard work to come,” wrote Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.) “As this work begins today, I draw strength from the challenge President Biden issued to all of us to defend the truth and unite to confront the multiple crises facing our country.
“Working together, I am hopeful that we can defeat this pandemic, reinvigorate our economy, combat the climate crisis, and confront systemic racism in our country.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) commented, “Today, we turn the page to a new chapter in American history and start a national renewal of unity, truth, and compassion. With the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, we have confirmed the will of the American people and pledged to start four years of healing and unification. Though our democracy was tested like never before, today is a testament to the power of the Constitution and the resilience of our democratic process.
“We face a time of unprecedented uncertainty – we have eclipsed 400,000 American deaths from this deadly pandemic and millions of Americans have been left struggling by the ensuing economic crisis. The challenges we face are some of the most consequential of our lifetime, and that is why it is more important than ever that we have the experienced, science-based leadership that the Biden Administration will provide.
“I have no doubt that our president and vice president will do what needs to be done to get the pandemic under control, restore our standing on the world stage, and revive our economy so that it works better for everyone.”
Additional information from Rafu staff reports and wire services.