Joe Biden spent his inaugural address preaching unity in a country riven with division.
But on his first day in office he went solo to sign 15 executive orders and two directives. It was all aimed at undoing Trump’s work swiftly- from re-joining the Paris Climate accord, to a national mask mandate, to reversing the Muslim travel ban.
It may be a risky move in a time crying out for bi-partisanship, but Joe Biden campaigned as the antidote to Donald Trump and it’s no surprise he didn’t want to waste any time unpicking his predecessor’s most controversial policies.
The day was rich with symbolism, his press secretary opening up a briefing promising to be “truthful and transparent”. It was an attempt to reset after an unprecedented era.
Gone was the talk of American carnage. Biden vowing to put an end to “an uncivil war,” insisting politics doesn’t need to be full of rage. It was the message we were expecting – a push for unity – an echo of his stump speech themes.
It felt sensible and safe, in a country that feels like it needs a pause from fighting. Liberal Hollywood looked delighted to be returning to the fold after shunning Donald Trump. It had all the hallmarks of convention that have been so absent for four years.
The standout moment for me was not Joe Biden’s words, but those of a 22 year-old poet who like the president she recited for, had suffered a speech impediment as a child.
“There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it,” Amanda Gorman said with soaring eloquence. At 78 years old Joe Biden is an unlikely candidate to craft a new future for a diverse America.
But his strength may be in who he picks to present his ideas. Amanda Gorman was the light a lot of people needed to see in that moment.
But from today on, it will be his deeds not just his words that America looks to. The 74 million people who didn’t vote for him will hold his feet to the fire. So too will the progressives, who invested their vote in a pragmatist, but will demand much more than incremental change. They picked him as their vessel, but they have high expectations.
Biden declared that “democracy has prevailed”. Yesterday felt like a city breathing a sigh of relief, not just for the absence of violence, but a return to what they know.
But everyone in that White House has seen how fragile America can and could still be.