"There is truth, and there are lies."
As statements go, this one is so basic, fundamental and simple that one might not expect it to be employed or, indeed, needed in anything beyond an elementary school classroom.
But in the context of the inaugural address of the United States of America’s 46th president, Joseph R. Biden, those seven words were dispensed with heft and gravity that made it unequivocally clear that the change so eagerly sought by more than 81 million American voters — and so sorely needed by all of the nation’s 330 million residents — had begun.
In front of a relatively sparse gathering of dignitaries and politicians that included former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — but, notably, not recently departed commander-in-chief Donald Trump — Mr. Biden took the oath of office just before 11 a.m. (CT) Wednesday and delivered a speech that was almost jarring in the way its calm, statesmanlike positivity diverged from the litany of grievances, insults, empty boasts and outright lies unleashed from Mr. Trump’s podiums during the past four years.
Pledging to fight just as hard for the Americans who didn’t support him in last November’s election as he will for those who did, Mr. Biden cited St. Augustine in laying out the "common objects of (our) love" that define Americans’ worldview: "Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honour and, yes, the truth."
Without mentioning his predecessor by name, the new president made clear his rejection of the dishonesty and dishonour that defined the Trump presidency. Where four years ago Mr. Trump delivered an inaugural address marked by dark imagery and sinister references to "American carnage," Mr. Biden opted to focus on the possibilities that await if Americans pledge their efforts to unity rather than division.
The baseline from which Mr. Biden hopes to embark on the next great American reclamation project is easy to define, but the task that awaits the new president in what has been fairly described as "the post–truth era" is as daunting as it is complex.
And where Mr. Trump’s first and only term as president began with his press secretary lying about the attendance at his inauguration and a principal adviser lecturing a Sunday-morning political program host on the validity of "alternative facts," Mr. Biden called on all Americans to honour the Constitution and protect the nation by "defend(ing) the truth and defeat(ing) the lies."
The baseline from which Mr. Biden hopes to embark on the next great American reclamation project is easy to define, but the task that awaits the new president in what has been fairly described as "the post-truth era" is as daunting as it is complex. Dishonesty has not merely been casually embraced by a large segment of the population; it has been weaponized and wielded with surgical precision by far-right media outlets, shadowy online enclaves and some Republican politicians to foment the sort of widespread unrest and misinformed rage that two weeks ago led to an unprecedented armed insurrection on the very steps upon which Mr. Biden took his oath.
Mr. Biden was correct in noting that his nation faces an almost unfathomably difficult collection of challenges — an attack on democracy and truth, a raging pandemic, systemic racism, a climate crisis and America’s diminished position in the global order — and that any one of them, on its own, would constitute a profound challenge for the next four years.
But presidents, and politicians in general, have little control over the conditions and predicaments they inherit. What they control is the attitude and approach with which they proceed into the fray. To that end, Mr. Biden’s forthright and forceful arrival stands in stark contrast to the petulance and pettiness with which his predecessor chose to absorb his defeat and frame his exit.