Biden gets inaugurated
Updated: Jan 23
As the president is sworn in, it is time to look at his route to the office
by: Isti Miskolczy
On the 20th of January, two weeks after the attack on the Capitol, president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris were officially sworn into office and began their term as the 46th president and 49th vice president of the United States.
Unlike previous years, the number of guests was strictly limited due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Attendees – consisting of US administration officials, close family and friends, and the press – had to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test and had to wear masks for the whole duration of the event except for speaking. Members of the general public could not attend, instead, a sea of flags were erected in the National Mall, where the crowds would normally stand.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Jerusalem. Via Creative Commons. Licensed under CC BY 2.0
During his first 24 hours in office, Biden has reversed many of Donald Trump’s presidential executive orders including the travel ban on several countries with a Muslim majority and the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. He also re-joined the Paris Climate Accord and the WHO – with the delegation to the latter to be led by Dr Anthony Fauci, who will also be coordinating the government’s new coronavirus taskforce. To further tackle COVID-19, Biden pledged to vaccinate 100 million American people in his first 100 days as a president and launched the “100 Days Mask Challenge” – which makes it compulsory to wear face coverings on all federal territories.
“Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain”
– Biden said in his inauguration speech, partly referring to his predecessor’s policies, which he often criticised during the elections campaign.
The elections took place in a rather hectic environment caused mainly by COVID-19, which took “as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II”. "Millions of jobs have been lost, hundreds of thousands of businesses closed” – President Biden said, highlighting the economic effects of the global pandemic. Albeit, alongside COVID-19 was the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the constant challenge of racial inequality and police brutality in the US upon the death of George Floyd.
“A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer” – Biden said. He also pledged to unite the American nation.
With the coronavirus and racial inequality being key themes of 2020 and the elections, we now look at how the candidates responded to them during their campaign activities.
It was back in April 2019 when Biden announced his candidacy in the 2020 Democratic party presidential primaries which, in the end, he won despite a slow, not-so-promising start. Then with the assistance of campaign managers Greg Schultz and Jen O’Malley Dillon, the fundraising begun, and the ‘Biden Plan’ was composed, covering almost all areas of American politics. As opposed to previous elections, peculiar novelties included separate campaign promises for the ethnic minorities, veteran soldiers, managing climate change, and tackling COVID-19.
Biden delivered his campaign with a limited number of public appearances and a much smaller number of rallies than Trump. He and Harris were primarily focusing on making the campaign more “COVID-friendly”. This included
socially distanced campaign events such as virtual or drive-in rallies and speeches broadcasted from their own homes.
On the other hand, Donald Trump – after receiving heavy criticism for his containment of the coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests – mainly tried to copy what he and his campaign team had done in 2016: organising massive rallies. These were organized amidst the constantly rising coronavirus infections with many of them being reported from the participants. In fact, it is most likely that Mr. Trump caught COVID-19 in one of his own rallies – where he usually spoke about the pandemic ironically and with criticism.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore. Via Creative Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Unlike Biden, Trump was also especially active on social media – especially Twitter – throughout his campaign, where he constantly condemned “sleepy Joe” for all his alleged wrongdoings and claimed everything unfavourable as “fake news”. Nonetheless, Biden was not making matters better either with among others telling Trump to “shut up” at their first presidential debate.
When it came to campaign promises on tackling COVID-19, Biden – as opposed to Trump – adopted a scientific approach among others with promising to
“hire Fauci and fire Trump”.
He often criticized Trump’s virus policies too, while also promising that public health decisions will be informed by public health professionals and that the government will be accountable to COVID policies.
Specific campaign targeting of the ethnic minorities comes with no surprise, as in many of the swing states different ethnic groups are making up a large share of the total population. There are two official languages of both candidates’ official webpage: English and for the Latino minorities: Spanish.
Biden highlighted Trump’s neglect of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria as well as promised the establishment of a Smithsonian National American Latino Museum. He also promised the composition of his cabinet to be reflecting the demographics of the US. Accordingly, Biden has named Latino Alejandro Mayorkas as a potential Secretary of Homeland Security and Xavier Becerra as a potential Secretary of Health and Human Services.
In his campaign, he recognised many members of the Hispanic and African American community being stuck in low-wage jobs and having lower rates of homeownership and less wealth. Thus promised that they will be part of the reestablishment of the middle class.
Biden also pledged to root out the discrimination in the workplace, including Hispanic and/or Black workers often getting paid lower wages than white workers.
A survey of the Pew Research Center in 2018 concluded that from the eligible Hispanic voters, those with Puerto Rican and/or Mexican origins are more likely to vote for Democrats while the majority of Cuban voters (57%) are considering themselves as Republican.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore. Via Creative Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Still, Florida, where 5 million people (one-quarter of the total population) are Hispanic and a further 3 million are African American was called for current president Donald Trump relatively early on election night, and eventually, he managed to secure a victory of 52.1% compared to 47.9% that of Joe Biden. In appealing to Hispanic (and especially the immigrant Cuban) voters Biden had to face the obstacle of Trump often comparing the former vice president’s aims to those of the hard-socialist Republic of Cuba.
In Texas, approximately every second person is either Hispanic or African American. Here the polls were also really close with Trump winning 52.1% of the total votes casted as opposed to Biden’s 47.9%. The large amount (11 million) of white voters in addition to the same campaign strategy as in Florida seems to have secured the electors for Trump too, not to mention the Republican Party’s particular support in the rural areas, which Texas has a lot of.
In Arizona, approximately 2 million out of the 7 in total consider themselves as Hispanic, and with that, they make up almost one-third of the population. Here, however, the Hispanic population consisting of people with mainly Mexican and not Cuban origins, among others, contributed to the marginal win of Biden with 49.4% as opposed to 49.1%. Here Trump could not campaign by highlighting any alleged similarities between the Democrats and the Republic of Cuba.
The choice of Kamala Harris as his vice-president-nominee also turned out to be mobilizing a lot of the African American voters all around the States.
So did Biden’s support of the (peaceful) Black Lives Matter movement and his promise to root out systematic racism “from our laws, our policies, our institutions, and our hearts”.
Biden and Harris also pledged to tackle racial inequality in income and the education system and to make far-reaching investments to end health disparities by race.
Kamala Harris has already made history by becoming the first woman, the first Black, and the first South-Asian candidate to assume this office. This was truly an outstanding moment. Nevertheless, the extent to which the Biden-Harris administration will make history is something which all Americans (and the world) will figure out only in four years.