After four long years of the Trump Administration, Wednesday’s Presidential Inauguration birthed a highly anticipated platform for incoming President Joseph Biden to speak to the American people directly and uninterrupted. President Biden’s Inaugural Address, written by Biden’s top speechwriter and senior advisor, Vinay Reddy, delivers the same messages and themes echoed by Biden’s successful presidential campaign while taking a sharp detour from the empty rhetorical path formed in Donald Trump’s 2016 Inaugural Address, written by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. The tone shift between the two speeches are starkly different, yet the language chosen in President Biden’s speech actively engages with the mounting and amplified division within the country’s present that can first be traced back to Trump’s 2016 Inaugural Address and his early campaign speeches marked with blatant racism. President Biden’s linguistic approach within his first moments as President aimed to revisit, reclaim, and unite Americans as we continue to figure out who we are, all while asking for help along the way.
“This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.” This line, from Trump’s 2016 Inaugural Address, is a painful reminder that stating the obvious isn’t helpful or moving when the country’s stakes require much more effort and brainpower to begin solving. Surprisingly enough, this type of simple rhetoric rooted in populism and nationalism appealed immensely to Trump’s political base. The oversimplification, erasure, and complete unwillingness to adequately dig deeper into the problems at hand is consistent in language used by Trump. His hollow construction of words serves as a sly and sinister way to passive aggressively dismiss the larger concerns of Americans as he makes it obvious through language that his intentions of ever addressing any opposition is nonexistent. Trump’s weaponizing of broad messages and phrasing is so strongly weaved into his political brand that his “Make America Great Again” slogan became a staple statement from within his base as a way to quickly and blatantly say so much and yet so very little at the same time.
While this notion of minimizing speech down to its broadest extent works well for Trump and his supporters, it leaves the rest of Americans opposed to his leadership confused. Biden’s Inaugural Address on Wednesday takes the fragmented American ideals produced by Trump’s legacy during the last four years and attempts to mold them into language more directly addressed to tangible goals — something Trump consistently avoided during his presidency. In an excerpt from Biden’s Inaugural speech, Biden distinctively states that “. . . Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth.”
Here, Biden confronts the enduring and unsolved question of how to define ourselves as Americans in the first place with a vulnerability never displayed in Trump throughout the course of his presidency. President Biden thinks he knows how to begin defining us, but his language isn’t certain, which is where his persistent refrains of unity call on others to help him as we sort this out together. For a man whose critiques include his skills as an orator, he manages to eloquently tackle the deeper embedded elephant in the room that has existed before Trump: the U.S.’s identity crisis. The avoidance of collectively reflecting on the mistakes, clear goals, and raw experiences that connect us and are unique to the U.S. has fundamentally damaged the progress of our nation. Without a clear sense of who we are, the goals we yearn for are muddled within the dissonance of the country’s cracked foundation. Clarity, and a willingness to unpack our strengths and weaknesses collectively sets forth a modern and necessary framework to begin launching and implementing substantial progressive policy that the Trump administration worked hard to undo.
The rest of Biden’s speech touches on his usual remarks that led him to his current success, although still important. He directly refers to the pandemic and the “dark winter” that awaits us ahead while honoring the different layers of tragedy and hardship that persisted throughout this year. For months now, Americans have been left in the dark about management of the coronavirus pandemic from the federal level while the deaths and infection rates throughout the nation have raged onward. Biden also addresses the U.S. on a global standpoint, assuring and engaging with other countries to mend fractured global relationships as well. Where Biden’s profound insight falls short, he relies on quotes, memories, and experiences to fill in the gaps. He most famously references Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and his mother during his Address.
Am I certain that Biden’s newly formed promises will translate into tangible policies that can benefit all Americans? No, but for the sake and fragility of the future ahead of us, I’m hopeful. The flowery language and charisma of the Obama administration gave me hope as well, but ultimately left me with empty promises. Hopefully, Biden’s lasting impact as President will extend beyond his public persona and be reflective of the strides towards equitable social progress he either chooses or fails to implement. My own politics fall drastically more left on the political spectrum than Biden’s, but based on what he’s presented through his Inaugural Address, I, like other Americans, am willing to see what he accomplishes. In President Biden’s Inaugural Address, which he coined as a “sacred oath” four years in the making, his speech manages to triumph the Trump administration’s dedication to silencing the imminent problems we face ahead as the country’s pressing issues have now been pulled back into the national spotlight. With Trump now officially out of office, the world listens as we try to shift our gaze from hindsight to the future.
Featured Image: Courtesy of CNN