Biden sworn in

Joe Biden (left) is sworn in as the 46th US President by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (right) on Wednesday, at the US Capitol in Washington DC. Photo: AFP

Democracy has prevailed

Together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear, of unity, not division, of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing and goodness.

Joe Biden

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden took charge as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday with an upbeat call to heal a nation torn by deep schisms as he immediately erased some of Donald Trump’s most divisive policies.

Standing on the steps of a US Capitol that was ransacked exactly two weeks earlier by pro-Trump mobs seeking to overturn his victory, Biden swore the presidential oath on a bulging century-old family Bible moments after Kamala Harris officially became America’s first woman vice president.

“Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said before a National Mall that was virtually empty due to the ultra-tight security and a raging Covid-19 pandemic that he vowed to confront swiftly.

“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 we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes,” he said.

US President Joe Biden speaks after being sworn in as the 46th President of the US during the 59th Presidential Inauguration. Photos: AFP

“Together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear, of unity, not division, of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing and goodness.”

But Trump, who falsely said that he was cheated out of a second term and egged on his supporters before their deadly rampage at the Capitol, broke 152 years of tradition by refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration.

Biden pushed through a flurry of orders the moment he entered the White House, starting with rejoining the 2015 Paris climate accord, from which the US withdrew under Trump, an ally of the fossil fuel industry.

“We are going to combat climate change in a way we have not done so far,” the new US leader said in the Oval Office as he signed papers on the Paris deal, which was negotiated by Barack Obama when Biden was his vice president.

Biden’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki said his first call to a foreign leader would be on Friday to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ― after Biden blocked the Keystone XL pipeline fiercely opposed by environmentalists but backed by Ottawa.

Biden also halted the US exit from the World Health Organisation, stopped construction of Trump’s cherished wall on the Mexican border and rescinded a ban on visitors from several Muslim-majority nations.

US President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office as he signs a series of orders at the White House in Washington DC, after being sworn in at the US Capitol on Wednesday. Photos: AFP

In his inaugural address, Biden appealed to supporters of Trump, who shattered political norms by ruthlessly belittling rivals, denouncing entire ethnic groups and trying to cast doubt on basic facts.

“I will be a president for all Americans,” the veteran Democrat said.

But Biden confronted head-on the rise of domestic extremism, as evidenced during Trump’s presidency by the Capitol assault, deadly attacks on synagogues and immigrants, and a violent march by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The United States faces “a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront, and we will defeat,” Biden said.

At 78, Biden is the oldest-ever US president, a job he first sought in 1987, and is only the second Roman Catholic president after John F Kennedy.

Washington took on the dystopian look of an armed camp, protected by some 25,000 National Guard troops who sealed off the city centre.

Former US President George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former US President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama arrive at the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the US Capitol. Photos: AFP

With the public essentially barred from attending the proceedings, Biden’s audience instead was 200,000 flags planted to represent the crowds absent from the National Mall.

While the public crowds were gone, Biden brought in celebrity power ― absent four years ago with Trump.

Lady Gaga, in a dress with a black bodice and a billowing red skirt, sang the national anthem and Jennifer Lopez gave a pop rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” ending by exclaiming the final words of the pledge of allegiance ― “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” ― in Spanish.

The new first lady, Jill Biden, invited a 22-year-old poet, Amanda Gorman, who became a star of the day with verse on how democracy “can never be permanently defeated”.

In lieu of inaugural balls, Biden joined a prime-time television broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial that featured Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, a number of Broadway stars and Justin Timberlake ― some live at the monument, but many of them appearing from remote locations.

Biden and Harris started their administration by jointly paying respects to fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery followed by an inaugural parade ― without spectators ― that featured both an Army fife and drum corps in the red coats of George Washington’s time, and a drumline and dancers from Howard University, the historically Black institution that counts the new vice president as a graduate. ― AFP