NASHVILLE, TN – Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in January 20 as the 46th President of the United States on the West side of the Capitol which just two weeks ago was over run by armed insurrectionists in an ill-fated attempt to secure Donald Trump a second term.
Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 49th Vice President, the first female vice president, and the first woman of color in U.S. history to hold that office. A smiling Harris wore a purple outfit with a pearl and silver necklace, and took a deep breath just before Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered her the oath of office.
Earlier Wednesday morning Trump left Washington and flew to Florida in Air Force One. He did not attend the inauguration. Last week, former First Lady Melania Trump declined to give Dr. Jill Biden an upstairs tour of the White House, which is the custom. So the Trumps left town as gracelessly as they entered it four years ago.
Capitol police and the Maryland National Guard protected the Capitol from a renewed invasion and COVID-19 protocols kept the inauguration from getting drawn out. There was no presidential luncheon. There was no huge parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. The overall tone was solemn yet joyous.
People performed their roles, delivered their lines, and the agenda moved along crisply without a hitch. There were some special moments.
Lady Gaga in a heavy pleated bright red skirt sang “The Star Spangled Banner” wearing a white dove pinned on a blue blouse. She sounded every bit like a later day Judy Garland. The night before the inauguration, another diva with a strong voice, Bette Midler, posted a one-minute farewell music video to Trump called “Goodbye Donnie” to the tune of “Hello Dolly”. Garth brooks sang “Amazing Grace” and encouraged the crowd to join him on the last verse.
Firefighter Andrea Hall led the pledge of allegiance. She both recited it and signed it for the deaf. Hall, who is Black, was the first female Black Fire Captain in the City of South Fulton, Georgia, and is president the local firefighter union.
Another first was a poem by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman who is just 22. She wore a bright yellow blazer with her hair held up by a wide red hairband. Summoning imagery of loss and a country divided, Gorman talked about what challenges we face as a nation and used herself as an example of the historical moment.
An excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”
By Amanda Gorman
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
Inside the Capitol and accompanied by their spouses, Biden and Harris received gifts. Then the President and Vice President drove in a motorcade to Arlington National Cemetery where they visited the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Biden and Harris walked up to the wreath in front of the white marble cube. Biden made the sign of the cross and Harris put her hand over her heart. There was a drumroll as a solo trumpet player played “Taps”. Flags held by the color guard snapped briskly in wind.
After the motorcade left Arlington Cemetery, it returned to Washington for a very short parade. The Howard University and University of Delaware marching bands walked the two blocks to the White House followed by a unit of US Park Mounted police. Then Biden and Harris entered the White House with their spouses.
Biden signed a number of executive orders including putting a halt on the border wall, rejoining the Paris Climate accords, embracing the World Health Organization, and cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline.
Biden signed actions requiring masks on all federal grounds and asked agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and on federal student loan payments.
Instead of a long in-person parade, there was a virtual “Parade Across America”. It featured dance troupes, a drum and drill corps from Des Moines, the Kilgore College Rangerettes from Texas in blue jean skirts and red blazers, a fife and drum corps from New York City, Chinese dancers from Delaware, hockey players from New York, a duet from Emory University, a Mariachi band from Nevada, and other groups who performed via tape from Massachusetts, Vermont, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maine, and other places. One band from Colorado marched up to the camera to deliver a message: “Stay United America!”