June 19, 2024
Biden's speech on Inauguration Day, annotated

Biden’s speech on Inauguration Day, annotated

Chief Justice Roberts, Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, Vice President Pence, my distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans.

Note that now-ex-President Donald Trump didn’t attend. He is the first American president since 1869 to skip his successor’s inauguration. Back then it was Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached by Congress. Today it’s Trump, the first President to be impeached twice. Biden did welcome Mike Pence, the outgoing vice president, who did attend.

Also note here that Biden mentioned “Leader” Schumer. Chuck Schumer wasn’t yet Senate Majority Leader at the time of the speech. He acquires that title with the swearing-in of Georgia’s two new Democratic senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, on Wednesday afternoon. Mitch McConnell was majority leader at noon but becomes minority leader later Wednesday.

This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve. Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The will of the people has been heard and the will of people has been heeded.

“America’s day” is the way Biden put it, but a large portion of the country is smarting at his victory.

We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.

So now on this hallowed ground where just a few days ago violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries. We look ahead in our uniquely American way — restless, bold, optimistic — and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.

Biden did not shy away from bringing up the threat posed by Trump’s effort to undermine the election and the effort by Trump’s followers to stop the counting of electoral votes at the Capitol just two weeks ago. Here, the new President declared victory for democracy — but he clearly wants to move on. Unity is going to be the main theme of this speech.

I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence here. I thank them from the bottom my heart. You know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength of our nation — as does President Carter, who I spoke with last night, who cannot be with us today, but whom we salute for his lifetime in service.

Former President Jimmy Carter is in his 90s, so he skipped the event. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was also unable to attend.

I have just taken a sacred oath that each of those patriots took — an oath first sworn by George Washington. But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On ‘we, the people,’ who seek a more perfect Union. This is a great nation and we are a good people. And over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we have come so far. But we still have far to go.

The oath is written in the Article II of Constitution, the nation’s founding document. Every President has to take it.

Biden sprinkled many references to US history and great speeches throughout his remarks. Here’s “We the People” and “a more perfect Union,” which comes from the preamble of the Constitution.

We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain.

Listing the difficulties we face during this time of division and pandemic was expected. But Biden suggested this is a time possibility and there’s much to gain. That speaks to the message of optimism he’s laced throughout his career.

Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It has taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.

The death toll is hard to comprehend. More than 400,000 Americans have died in less than a year, on Trump’s watch.

Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

This is an incredible time, as Biden suggested. All of these threats, it should be noted, were to some degree denied or rejected by now-former President Trump.

To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and secure the future of America — requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity. Unity.

Unity is the most important thing in this speech and it may be just as hard to convince Democrats angry at what Trump was able to do in his four years to get on board with coming together as it will be to convince Republicans angry that Trump lost.

In another January in Washington, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said — and I quote — “If my name ever goes down into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

My whole soul is in it. Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation.

I ask every American to join me in this cause, uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs and we can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

This call to Americans is important. Biden effectively told Americans he can’t do it on his own. This was the “ask what you can do for your country” element of this speech.

I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal, and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.

The battle is perennial and victory is never assured. Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward and we can do that now. History, faith and reason show the way — the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury; no progress, only exhausting outrage; no nation, only a state of chaos.

Biden acknowledged the complicated reality of the American ideal here, but argued the country ultimately gets things right, when enough Americans join the effort to move toward the “more perfect union.”

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.

And so today, at this time and in this place, let’s start afresh, all of us. Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war, and we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured.

Biden here confronted a core challenge to his call for unity: that so much of the country has been led — in large part by Trump himself — to believe in a set of facts that are not true.

My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this, and I believe America is so much better than this. Just look around. Here we stand, in the shadow of the Capitol dome, as was mentioned earlier, completed amid the Civil War when the union itself was literally hanging in the balance. Yet, we endured. We prevailed.

The dome was under construction during the entire Civil War, being built as the country was being torn apart, and completed in 1866.

Here we stand, looking out on the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote, and today we mark the swearing in of the first woman in American history elected to national office, Vice President Kamala Harris. Don’t tell me things can’t change.

King’s speech was during the March on Washington in 1963.

The Women’s Suffrage Parade was in 1913, ahead of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Each of those were protest movements long in the making and they included large gatherings of people.

The Mall Wednesday was largely cleared of people due to security concerns as well as the pandemic.

Here we stand, across the Potomac from Arlington National Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.

This phrase comes from the Gettysburg Address. Arlington Cemetery is located at the former plantation home of Robert E. Lee and is where many Americans who have died in combat are interred. Instead of the normal post-inaugural lunch with lawmakers after this speech, Biden traveled to Arlington after his speech to pay his respects.

And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.

Biden rejected the riotous mob, but he also placed the January 6 storming of the Capitol alongside key moments in US history. Their defeat is the country’s victory.

To all those who supported our campaign, I am humbled by the faith you placed in us. To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart, and if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our republic is perhaps this nation’s greatest strength.

Yet, hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion, and I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans. All Americans. And I promise you, I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.

Returning to his theme of unity, Biden personally asked his political opponents to give him a chance. They got more attention in this speech than his supporters.

Many centuries ago, St. Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love, defined by the common objects of their love.

Biden is a deeply religious man and just the second Catholic US President. Read more here about Saint Augustine.

What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and — yes — the truth. Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and a responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.

Biden promised to help all Americans. But he reminded his listeners, several times in this speech, that keeping this democracy together will demand an adherence to facts. That could be the biggest break from the Trump era.

Look, I understand that many of my fellow Americans view the future with fear and trepidation. I understand they worry about their jobs. I understand, like my dad, they lay in bed, staring — at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, “Can I keep my health care? Can I pay my mortgage?” Thinking about their families, about what comes next. I promise you, I get it.

This was interestingly informal language for an inaugural address. This part was the FDR-esque Fireside Chat.

But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do. We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, 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. As my mom would say, “Just for a moment, stand in their shoes.”

“End this uncivil war” should be the most-remembered line from this speech.

Because here’s the thing about life: There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days, you need a hand. There are other days when we’re called to lend a hand. That’s how it has to be. That’s what we do for one another. And if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future. We can still disagree.

Biden’s belief in fate is an element of his faith. And his call to help others is rooted in that and will be evident in his efforts to expand health care coverage and help Americans hurt by the pandemic — including those who didn’t vote for him, another shift back to old norms and away from Trump’s habit of favoring states or voters who supported him.

My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we’re going to need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. One nation. And I promise you this, as the Bible says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” We will get through this together. Together.

This is Psalm 30:5: “For His anger endureth but a moment, and in His favor is life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Biden added a collectivist tinge to this verse.

Look, folks, all my colleagues I served with in the House and the Senate up here, we all understand the world is watching, watching all of us today. So here’s my message to those beyond our borders. America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.

Given the importance of foreign policy to Biden’s senate and vice presidential career, it got relatively short attention in this speech. By talking about “rebuilding alliances,” he made clear he aims to undo Trump’s “America First” approach of removing the US from treaties and alliances and his bullying of other countries with threats.

We’ll be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security. Look, you all know we’ve been through — through so much in this nation. In my first act as President, I’d ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all of those who we lost in this past year due to the pandemic, those 400,000 fellow Americans — moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers. We will honor them by becoming the people and the nation we know we can and should be. So I ask you, let’s say a silent prayer for those who’ve lost their lives and those left behind and for our country.

The simple act of acknowledging the dead is new. Biden and Harris held a national memorial ceremony on Tuesday night, on the eve of inauguration.

Folks, this is a time of testing. 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, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we’ve had.

All Presidents like to talk about how difficult their challenges will be. But Biden has a point here.

Now we’re going to be tested. Are we going to step up, all of us? It’s time for boldness, for there’s 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.

We will rise to the occasion. The question is, will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world to our children? I believe we must. I’m sure you do, as well. I believe we will. And when we do, we’ll write the next great chapter in the history of the United States of America, the American story, a story that might sound something like a song that means a lot to me. It’s called American Anthem.

And there’s one verse that stands out, at least for me, and it goes like this. “The work and prayers of century have brought us to this day, what shall be our legacy. What will our children say? Let me know in my heart when my days are through. America, America, I gave my best to you.”

If Trump’s inaugural was known for his phrase “American carnage,” Biden’s could be called “American Anthem.”

Here’s a version of the song, written by Gene Scheer and sung by Norah Jones.

Let’s add — let’s us add our own work and prayers to the unfolding story of our great nation. If we do this, then when our days are through, our children and our children’s children will save us. They gave their best, they did their duty, they healed a broken land.

My fellow Americans, I close today where I began, with a sacred oath. Before God and all of you, I give you my word, I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I will defend our democracy. I will defend America. And I will give all, all of you, keep everything I do in your service, thinking not of power but of possibilities, not of personal interest but the public good.

This is a very Biden way to end the speech. Honesty is important to him.

And 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. Greatness and goodness.

May this be the story that guides us, the story that inspires us, and the story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history. We met the moment. Democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch, but thrived. That America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world.

That is what we owe our forebears, one another, and generations to follow.

At the start of the ceremony, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar noted that there were “a whole bunch of Bidens” in attendance.

So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to those tasks of our time, sustained by faith, driven by conviction, and devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts.

May God bless America, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.

Relatively succinct and appropriately broad, this was a very good speech.