On Wednesday, January 20, at noon Eastern time, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. He took the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and his vice president, Kamala Harris, from Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Harris became the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian person to be elected to the vice presidency of the US.
Biden, 78, enters the White House at an unprecedented moment of crisis. A pandemic has left more than 400,000 Americans dead, and a coordinated federal response is of the utmost importance. The economic fallout from Covid-19 has left millions of people in desperate need of help.
Politically and culturally, much of the country is in chaos — the transition of power between presidential administrations has been disturbingly tumultuous. Biden’s predecessor and many Republicans spent months casting doubt on the election results and refusing to accept the former vice president’s victory. Their rhetoric and actions helped incite a violent riot at the US Capitol just days before the inauguration, which left five people dead. Because of the threat of more violence, Washington, DC, and other political centers across the country are on high alert, and 25,000 National Guard troops have descended upon the nation’s capital to try to maintain safety and order.
At the inauguration, Biden — who staked his candidacy in part on his ability to work with both sides of the aisle — tried to strike a tone of unity that acknowledged the current landscape but looked forward to a brighter future.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy,” he said. “The people, the will of the people, has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile, and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
For millions of Americans, Biden’s victory is a moment for celebration. He has laid out an ambitious agenda, much of which has a decent chance of becoming reality with Democrats in control of the House and the Senate. He will be able to quickly reverse course on some of Trump’s ugliest policies, such as the travel ban and exiting the Paris climate agreement. He gives the country a chance to reset its coronavirus response. But it’s also a moment for reflection: The country is deeply divided, and how to address that is far from clear.
“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward,” Biden said on Wednesday. “And we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”
Here’s a look at the winners and losers of the inauguration of Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States.
Winner: Joe Biden
Biden has wanted to be president for a long, long time — he made White House runs in 1988 and 2008. Now, he’s finally made it.
That Biden would be the Democratic nominee and beat Trump in 2020 were not foregone conclusions. While he was ahead in the polls for much of the primary, he stumbled in early races, and it wasn’t until votes were cast in South Carolina that the tide began to turn. In Trump, he faced a formidable opponent: Incumbents usually win, and prior to Covid-19, for many people in the country, the economy and life in general were plugging along just fine.
Biden met the moment in a way that perhaps only he could. His political life is wrapped up in his identity as a kind, decent man. He is the eternal empath and can sit with people’s pain because he’s felt that pain, too.
He has an extensive record and certainly has his fair share of flaws, and he faces enormous challenges in the days, weeks, and months ahead. He will have to navigate a singular public health and economic landscape. He’ll also have to deal with political forces on the right — many of the same ones that thwarted much of President Barack Obama’s agenda — and fault lines within his own party between progressives urging him to go big and moderates advocating for a more conventional path. And he’ll be doing it at 78 years old.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities — much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now,” Biden said in his inaugural speech.
He later added: “My whole soul is in this, bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
Loser: Donald Trump
Throughout his business career and presidency, Donald Trump has sought icon status. He’s wanted to seem larger than life. He exits the White House feeling quite small.
Trump lost the 2020 presidential election by millions of votes and has never completely acknowledged it. He insisted for weeks his loss was the result of mass voter fraud and cheating, despite having no evidence to back him up. After the election, he peddled conspiracy theories and lies and filed dozens of largely frivolous lawsuits.
These tactics culminated in a violent invasion of the Capitol, after which Trump was impeached for the second time in his four-year term. Since then, Trump has largely disappeared from the public sphere. The corporate and political interests that (often selfishly) enabled him have largely abandoned him. In the public appearances and speeches he has made in recent days, Trump has appeared tired and sullen. Without the Twitter account he wielded as a weapon for years, he has retreated.
Trump refused to attend his successor’s inauguration, bucking decades of tradition, and instead exited the White House in the early morning hours on Wednesday. The day before his exit, he released a 20-minute farewell address that focused on his achievements, brushed over his shortcomings, and reframed his legacy as one of success. He delivered a second goodbye speech on Wednesday from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, taking a similar tack. “We were not a regular administration,” he said — a point with which few people would disagree.
What’s next for Trump is unclear. “Goodbye, we love you, we will be back in some form,” he said on Wednesday. His closer: “Have a good life, we will see you soon.”
Loser: Trump’s executive orders
The earliest days of Trump’s presidency were defined by a rapid clip of executive orders to undo the work of the Obama administration.
From the travel ban that shut out immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries and caused chaos at airports to an executive order attempting to repeal Obamacare and start construction of a border wall to revoking Obama’s protections for LGBTQ individuals and slashing environmental regulations, Trump set a record for most executive orders signed in a president’s first 100 days.
The problem for Trump? Executive orders can be erased with the stroke of a pen. And after Biden takes office Wednesday, many of Trump’s executive actions will be gone.
Biden has planned an aggressive executive order agenda for day one of his presidency that involves rolling back many of Trump’s actions, in addition to instating other executive actions to advance Biden’s agenda — many of which are related to getting America’s Covid-19 crisis under control. He’ll sign these executive orders later Wednesday at the White House.
Among the new Biden executive orders that cancel out Trump’s agenda: ending the travel ban to majority-Muslim countries, rejoining the Paris climate accord after Trump pulled the US out of it, rejoining the World Health Organization, and halting the construction of the wall on the US-Mexico border. Biden will also direct his agencies to review federal fuel emission standards lowered by Trump, and sign an executive order revoking a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — marking a huge win for environmental groups that have been fighting it for years.
Beyond rolling back Trump’s agenda, Biden also will lay out more of his own executive actions related to Covid-19 — including a 100-day mask mandate in federal buildings and on federal lands, and action to extend moratoriums on eviction and student debt payments to ease the financial burden for struggling families.
“I want to be clear: These measures are important but they are not sufficient,” Biden’s National Economic Council director, Brian Deese, told reporters recently. “Responding to the crisis effectively will require Congress to act on the rescue plan that the president-elect laid out, and the recovery plan [he’ll] lay out shortly.”
Biden’s aides have stressed that there will be many more executive actions to come, in addition to the new president’s legislative agenda. But Biden’s first day shows that the end of the Trump era isn’t just about rhetoric — it’s about immediate policy action.
Donald Trump’s presidency is officially over, and Obamacare is still alive.
Trump, who promised in 2016 that he would deliver “great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost — and it’s going to be so easy,” quickly realized how wrong he was. Republican congressional attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act consumed most of his first year in office.
The repeal push failed catastrophically when Sen. John McCain gave his thumbs-down in July 2017. Though Republicans tried to make a second attempt that fall, it quickly sputtered and never came up for a vote.
Trump and Republicans couldn’t come up with a plan to keep the grandiose promises they had made. Rather than cover everybody, as Trump said he wanted to do, millions of people would have lost their insurance under the repeal plans. Rather than protect Medicaid, as the president pledged he would, their proposals would have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending and led to millions falling off its rolls. People with preexisting conditions would have lost the iron-clad protections that Obamacare had given them, that they would not be denied coverage or charged a higher premium because of their medical history.
The Trump White House paid the price for its miscalculation. Democrats, campaigning heavily on preserving health care, won back the House in the 2018 midterms. The GOP’s Senate majority was lost in 2020. Biden pummeled Trump over his health care agenda and made the latter a one-term president.
Biden begins his term looking to quickly build on the ACA, expanding the welfare state that the outgoing president tried but failed to shrink. There are still serious problems in US health care: tens of millions uninsured and medical care unaffordable for many others who do have an insurance card.
But the new president will pick up where Barack Obama left off, almost as if the Trump administration never happened.
Winner: Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris is now the first woman — as well as the first Black and South Asian person — to become vice president, and her role is poised to be a singular one.
Harris will serve as both a pivotal tiebreaker in the Senate and a close adviser to Biden. As one of few vice presidents who’ll preside over a 50-50 Senate, she could be a key vote on everything from Cabinet nominees to budget reconciliation. And as a leader who Biden has said he’d like to be the “last person in the room,” she’ll have an important voice on a wide range of policy issues as the White House tackles ongoing public health and economic crises.
Harris brings wide-ranging expertise and a diverse set of lived experiences to the role as a longtime public servant and daughter of immigrants. Now the highest-ranking woman in US government, she starts her term as vice president by making history.
Loser: The peaceful transfer of power
It happened as it was supposed to happen. Joe Biden took his oath of office and became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20.
Kamala Harris, the first female vice president, was also sworn in, right before. And if all you did is look at the West Side of the Capitol, at the band and at the podium and the flags draped from the building, it looked and sounded and felt like the democratic tradition Americans are familiar with. The law, the institutions, prevailed.
But just two weeks earlier, this very same Capitol building was under siege. A mob, incensed by conspiracy theories about a stolen election, stormed the halls of Congress. They tried to overturn a democratic election and interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory. Five people died in the attack.
The threat of more violence loomed over Biden’s inauguration. State capitols around the country put up fortifications because of potential unrest. Washington, DC, became a fortress. Last week, a black fence went up around the perimeter of the Capitol. Police cars and trucks cut off access around the National Mall. About 25,000 armed National Guard troops deployed to the Capitol. The security perimeter extends blocks and blocks, with subway stations shut down and storefronts boarded up. Flags replaced crowds on the Mall.
In 2021, the peaceful transfer of power had to be enforced. That fragility — of how close America might have come to not making it to this moment — lingered around the edges of the inauguration ceremony.
Biden confronted this in his inaugural address. He spoke about the country’s divisions, which he called an “uncivil war.” He described the “historic moment of crisis and challenge,” from the pandemic, from economic inequities, from misinformation, and from domestic terrorism and white supremacy.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said on Wednesday. “For now on this hallowed ground where just a few days ago violence sought to shake the Capitol’s very foundation, we come together one nation under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”
Biden did not underestimate the hard work, though he — and others — came out on the side of hope. “If we do this,” Biden said, “then when our days are through, our children and our children’s children will say of us, they gave their best, they did their duty, they healed the broken land.”
This 59th inauguration may ultimately be a testament to democracy’s resilience, the first step toward reckoning and repair. Or it could be a political system running on muscle memory. We don’t know the answer right now. America lost something two weeks ago, and it will take more than the inauguration to recover it.
Winner: The truth
The Trump years were marked by misinformation and untruths, a blurring of facts and fiction. In his inaugural speech, Biden promised a break from that and a return to a focus on truth — even truths that are difficult to acknowledge.
Part of Biden’s call for unity was an understanding of the context in which he is taking office — one that is disjointed and divided even on the basic agreement of facts. And those divisions have reached a dangerous level.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be cause for total war,” Biden said. “And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this.”
While Biden did not call out former President Trump by name, he did acknowledge his role in the situation and signaled his determination to be different. “What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans? I think we know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and, yes, truth,” he said. “Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. Each of us has a duty and responsibility 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.”
Conspiracy theories that have been allowed to run rampant on the internet and parroted by Trump and some Republicans have infiltrated many American households and fostered a political and cultural situation that is untenable. Biden taking over the White House promises a return to a more honest, straightforward administration — one that won’t begin, as Trump’s term did, with obvious lies about his inauguration’s crowd size.
Winner: Amanda Gorman
After Biden’s inaugural speech, a poet took the stage: a young Black woman named Amanda Gorman, who would recite a work titled “The Hill We Climb.” The work captures the country’s fragile moment and the hope ahead. Part of it reads:
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
History has its eyes on us.
Gorman, now 22, was named the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles when she was 16 years old and became the national youth poet laureate while an undergraduate at Harvard. Ahead of the inauguration, she spoke with the New York Times about her intentions for the moment and her feelings about it. Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, told the Times she wanted the poem to be about unity and a new chapter in the country without acknowledging the darkness the country is experiencing right now.
“We have to confront these realities if we’re going to move forward, so that’s also an important touchstone of the poem,” she said. “There is space for grief and horror and hope and unity, and I also hope that there is a breath for joy in the poem, because I do think we have a lot to celebrate at this inauguration.”
Gorman’s words and appearance hit a nerve and were a poignant bookend to the inaugural ceremony. Gorman also has political aspirations of her own: In 2017, she told the Times she wanted to make a White House run someday. “This is a long, long, faraway goal, but 2036 I am running for office to be president of the United States,” she said. “So you can put that in your iCloud calendar.”