In so many ways it was all so gloriously, spectacularly, crushingly normal. The ceremonial rituals, the military band, the procession of dignitaries, the sprinkling of stars, and the entirely forgettable inaugural speech.
But for the pandemic masks, the death toll of more than 400,000 Americans, and the small army to deter another white supremacist insurrection, the scenes on the west side of the Capitol were the first signs of a restoration of democracy that came perilously close to collapse.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr swore to protect and defend the constitution on a giant family Bible that was bigger than his home state of Delaware. It appeared helpful for crushing large insects and small insurrectionists.
If anything survives in our collective memories of Biden’s speech, it will be the 46th president’s commitment to what used to be boilerplate language about the vital struggle to preserve democracy and rebuild something close to national unity.
“Today we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause. The cause of democracy,” Biden began. “The people, the will of the people, has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
It almost didn’t, of course. With a few more Republicans in the House, the will of the people would have been overturned. With a few fewer Republican state officials willing to stand up for free and fair elections, Biden’s autocratic predecessor would have been standing on that same spot. With a few more insurrectionists, several of those members of Congress seated on the Capitol steps might not have borne witness to history on Wednesday.
Beyond defeating the pandemic, Biden called out three priorities that could ne