The past four years under Donald Trump’s presidency has given rise to a deeply divided society. His tenure has been plagued by turbulence but the nation witnessed one of its darkest days on 6 January when thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters descended upon the U.S. Capitol and engaged in violence, forcing Washington to a standstill.
In the days that followed, Mr. Trump refused to condemn either his supporters or the violence which ensued. It was not until he was reportedly pressured by aides and impeached for the second time – becoming the only American President to ever be impeached twice – that he issued a condemnation via Twitter. The President has since been banned from various social media platforms due to widespread accusations that he incited the mob to attack the Capitol.
“Everyone thought my speech was totally appropriate,” he insisted to reporters earlier this week.
His words only gave his supporters more reason to believe they were justified in storming the Capitol and realistically, should anyone expect anything different from President Trump? Over the past four years, he has divided America right down the middle; instilling distrust in the news media, blaming the Democrats for failed policy proposals, even his first impeachment proved aggressively controversial.
Perhaps most malignantly, he has made a smooth transition of power impossible. Mr. Trump’s supporters hang on every word he says and as he prepares to exit the White House, he has made things much more difficult on his successor. President-elect Joe Biden will take office this week and inherit an extremely polarized nation, some of whom do not even believe he fairly won the election. This makes Biden’s inauguration speech that much more important. It will mark his first presidential step towards healing the country and bringing the American people back together.
Biden ran on a message of hope and unity, even appealing to Trump supporters to just give him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris a chance to lead the country.
“This is the time to heal in America,” he said in his victory speech on 7 November. “They are not our enemies. They’re Americans. I will work to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify. I won’t see red states and blue states, I will always see the United States.”
As Biden has often said on the campaign trail – the words of a president matter. He knows his upcoming speech at Wednesday’s inauguration will be the most important speech he has ever given. As history shows, both Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt gave powerful speeches during precarious times; Lincoln’s second inaugural address sought to heal a wounded nation even as the Civil War raged on; Roosevelt was frank in his acknowledgement of the Great Depression but provided hope for Americans to move forward.
Biden’s first speech as president needs to combine the two and deliver a message of unity and hope. Will Mr. Trump’s most loyal supporters listen? Probably not. But at least Biden is aware that it will take time for his message to ring home after four years of Donald Trump’s incessant lambasting. Biden began his campaign with a promise to change the tone in Washington and following the attack at the U.S. Capitol, his inaugural speech offers a particularly important opportunity to fulfill that promise, set the tone of his presidency and begin unifying a very divided nation.