Although tension and uncertainty surrounded the weeks leading up to Jan. 20, USF political experts described the inauguration of President Joe Biden as customary and unifying, with hopes for bipartisan collaboration during his presidency.
Biden was sworn into office as the 46th U.S. president Wednesday morning in an unconventional ceremony without a live audience filling the fields of National Mall, due to the novel coronavirus. His inauguration took place at the U.S. Capitol Building where he recited the presidential oath of office at noon following the swearing-in of Vice President Kamala Harris. Political science professor Steven Tauber found the inauguration to be optimistic parallelism.
“I was struck by how I was watching the image of the Capitol, the same side of the Capitol that the violent mob was attacking, doing what the country’s supposed to do, which is inaugurate the winning president,” Tauber said. “It was good to see that same space used in a positive light versus a negative light.”
The National Mall was filled with federal, state and local law enforcement as a preventive measure due to threats made by Capitol insurrectionists two weeks prior. Because of limited access to the event, as well as safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, viewership of the event was mostly virtual with only about 2,000 people attending in person.
Press, dignitaries and other political officials were present, but the absence of civilian viewers was made up for with thousands of American flags lined up in the National Mall, including an arrangement of flags that looked like a map of the U.S. from above.
Outgoing President Donald Trump and his family did not attend the inauguration, which according to Nicolas Thompson, a professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Global Studies, was unusual but not unheard of.
“When John Adams lost the presidency of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson, Adams actually left before the inauguration so it’s not entirely unprecedented, but I mean, within the kind of context of the body of the presidency it’s totally unprecedented,” Thompson said. “In some ways, it’s a direct reflection of the fact that now-former President Trump refused to acknowledge his electoral defeat, if he had gone that would have been some kind of concession that he was unwilling to make.”
Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence did attend the ceremony despite Trump’s absence.
Harris was sworn in by the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at 11:30 a.m., which Thompson said was “historic” for the nation.
“It’s an exciting day, our first female vice president, first African American female vice president and first vice president of Asian descent as well,” Thompson said. “It’s very exciting to see our government be more reflective of what America looks like as a diverse society.”
Biden was sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts using a 128-year-old, five-inch thick Bible with a Celtic cross on the cover. The same Bible was also used when he was sworn in as a Delaware senator in 1973 and as the vice president in 2009.
During his speech, Biden emphasized the importance of unification, and he called for the nation to come together to “overcome the deadly virus,” and to “make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words,” he said. “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy, unity.”
Following the inauguration, Communication professor Joshua Scacco anticipates a very busy few weeks for Biden, consisting of executive orders, increased communication about coronavirus to the public and staffing administrative positions.
“One of the key things that I think is very important particularly for many supporters of the new president as well as individuals who supported the Trump administration is the understanding that things will not change overnight, and turning a massive ship of a country will take a bit of time,” he said.
Even though it will take some time to make changes in the nation, Biden signed 17 executive orders on the afternoon of the inauguration, including one to rejoin the Paris Agreement to deal with the global threat of climate change and another to cease construction on the border wall. He also signed an order that will extend a freeze on student loan payments until Sept. 30.
The most urgent matter for the Biden administration, according to Scacco, is adjusting the handling of the pandemic, which will consist of updating the public on the status of vaccinations as well as issuing executive orders to increase production.
“One of the things that the Biden administration has said that they will do is the new president will invoke the Defense Production Act, which gives the president authority to order some private industries to produce particular materials for a national effort,” he said. “In this case, that will be related to the vaccines that are critical shortages and areas of the supply chain related to getting vaccines to people.”
The Biden administration will attempt to pass a $1.9 trillion relief bill while simultaneously dealing with vaccinations, confirming cabinet members and Trump’s impeachment trial. He signed an executive action initiating the 100 Days Masking Challenge. The action is only able to mandate masks on federal property, but it encourages it everywhere.
Biden also announced that many of Trump’s decisions will be overturned via executive orders as soon as possible, according to J. Edwin Benton, professor in the Department of Government and International Affairs. These orders will include solidifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and protecting Dreamers.
“[Biden’s orders] deal with everything from a requirement to wear masks, rejoining the Paris Accord with regard to climate control, travel from people from Muslim-related countries and a few others,” he said. “Some of those are actually nullifying the executive orders by former President Trump.”
Experts also expect to see a change in tone surrounding foreign relations, according to Thompson.
“President Trump cozied up with a lot of dictators the U.S. is traditionally more hostile towards,” he said. “I think we should expect the Biden administration to try and smooth over some of our relations with our traditional allies in Europe, the NATO alliance and assume a more traditional adversarial relationship with our traditional competitors.”
A tone shift in foreign reactions is not the only shift experts are expecting. Scacco said the biggest change will be in the tone of the nation as a whole. This will stem largely from the acceptance of Biden as the president allowing political tensions to settle down.
Despite the pandemic, Capitol insurrection and the impeachment trial, Scacco said the inauguration leads the way to a brighter future for the country.
“We forge ahead, we continue, we understand that we are not the first to live through tough times and we focus on the ways in which we can better society and democracy,” he said.