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In address, President Biden declares, 'Democracy has prevailed'

I'm not aware of any modern presidential inaugural address that devoted so much attention to defending democracy and the concept of objective truths.
Image: Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States
President Joe Biden delivers his speech after he was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021.Jim Bourg / Reuters

Ordinarily, a president-elect and his team will start working on an inaugural address soon after the election. But if President Joe Biden and his aides started writing his speech in November, they likely had to discard the early drafts -- because over the course of the last 10 weeks, the nation and its system of government has been tested in ways the incoming administration probably didn't fully expect in November.

With this in mind, it was striking to see Biden acknowledge the recent political crisis at the outset of his national address:

"This is democracy's day. A day of history and hope of renewal and resolve through a crucible for the ages. America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people, has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. We've learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed."

It was a poignant reminder that Americans haven't just gone through a difficult electoral process; we've also witnessed a direct attack on our democracy, launched by Biden's predecessor and too many of his radicalized allies.

"From now, on this hallowed ground, where just a few days ago, violence sought to shake the Capitol's very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible to carry out the peaceful transfer of power, as we have for more than two centuries.... Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever."

In all, the new president referenced "democracy" directly 11 times in his inaugural address. Biden left little doubt that he recognizes the severity of the circumstances, and the recent strains on the pillars of political system that add to the challenges of addressing pressing issues.

"We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America's role in the world. Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we've had. Now we're going to be tested. Are we going to step up? All of us? It's time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And this is certain, I promise you, we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era."

It was a running theme throughout the address: democracy and truth have been targeted in ways that must be addressed to end what Biden described as "this uncivil war."

"We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.... Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies."

I'm not aware of any modern presidential inaugural address that devoted so much attention to defending democracy and the concept of objective truths. But Biden is acutely aware of the attacks they've suffered in recent years, and the simple fact that American unity is impossible without them.

Joe Biden's vision is ambitious, his challenges are daunting, and the threats are legion. But watching him in front of the Capitol today, I saw a president who appeared ready for the task at hand.