Former senator and vice president Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America, taking the reins of a deeply divided nation striving to preserve its superpower status.
Biden has been sworn in by US Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts at the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. At 78, he is the oldest individual to take the highest office in the US, superseding his predecessor, Donald Trump, who was 70 when he became the president.
Some people doubt whether Biden has enough energy to fully commit to his job and wonder what the balance of power between him and his running mate, Kamala Harris, will be. The first-ever woman to be elected US vice president would take Biden’s office, should he for some reason step down. Some believe she would be the real power in his administration, with Biden playing a placeholder role.
The ceremony was attended by key Republican figures, including Vice President Mike Pence, but Trump was notably absent, after repeatedly insisting that the victory in the presidential election was stolen from him. The Republican’s term ended in unsuccessful attempts to negate Biden’s victory, culminating in a riot of his supporters on the day that the US Congress was counting electoral votes cast for the Democrat. Trump’s alleged role in inciting the riot resulted in his second impeachment, which the US Senate refused to consider for a possible conviction.
Biden faces leading a country that’s in a deeply fragile state, devastated psychologically and economically, due to the Covid-19 epidemic, and divided politically. A recent poll showed that more than half of Americans consider their fellow citizens as the biggest threat to the American way of life, way ahead of shady business interests, natural disaster or foreign foes.
Many people who voted for Trump in November question Biden’s legitimacy, and some are prepared to commit violent acts, as the Capitol riot has proven. Some 25,000 National Guards have been deployed to Washington to provide security during the inauguration ceremony and defend US officials against a possible attack.
Elected on a promise to return to normalcy and heal the soul of the nation, Biden is facing significant pressure to punish Trump and his “enablers” for all the wrongs that the critics accuse them of. Many public figures in the US advocate measures like increased policing powers and online political censorship to tackle what they see as a threat of domestic terrorism emanating from Trump supporters.
On the international front, Biden is facing several conundrums left by his predecessor. For one, Trump pursued a highly confrontational approach towards Iran, torpedoing the Obama-negotiated 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and ordering an assassination of a top Iranian general. Biden has indicated he does not want to simply rejoin the agreement, which may result in Iran abandoning it altogether.
Likewise, the Biden team seems to be locked into embracing Trump’s other Middle East policies, like the relocation of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Trump’s widely claimed cozy relations with Russia – which in reality involved a slew of anti-Russian sanctions – is expected to push Biden into an even more hawkish approach towards Moscow. It means he is unlikely to reverse any of the damage done by Trump, like the dismantling of key arms control treaties with Moscow or shuttering of Russian diplomatic facilities.
Biden is also inheriting a problematic relationship with China, marred by numerous Trump policies. Those include a protracted trade war, a spree of sanctions targeting Chinese companies, prosecutions of alleged Chinese spies, an accusation that Beijing had unleashed Covid-19 on an unsuspecting world, and the latest charge of genocide against the Uighur minority.
Biden’s inauguration day plans include reversing some of Trump’s decisions, like rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change. But his own ability to deliver sweeping change for the better – as well as “healing” and “unity” for a divided nation – is going to face a rigorous test.
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