Washington couldn’t turn the page quickly enough from Donald Trump to President Joe Biden.

Trump’s voice faded from the capital he had animated and antagonized since 2017 as he flew to private life in Florida, with his last trip on Air Force One tuned in to Biden’s inauguration on television.

And quite suddenly, at least for the moment, the old ways were back: reverence of custom, rituals dating back two centuries, scenes of grace, calls for unity.

Four years after Trump’s dark portrayal of “American carnage,” Biden set out his intent on the same platform of the flag-bedecked Capitol to write “an American story of hope.”

Masked in the Oval Office, as he’d been all day except when speaking, the new president began writing that story with his pen. He signed executive orders chipping away at Trump’s legacy. One put the U.S. on track to rejoin the Paris climate accord.


As night fell, Biden leaned on Hollywood and the entertainment industry, led by Tom Hanks, to produce a television show that gave a high gloss to the president’s regular Joe persona. The programming was a pandemic-induced, no-crowd necessity that allowed the president to keep attention focused on his vision for the days ahead instead of his predecessor’s unfounded grievances about election wrongs.

Bruce Springsteen kicked it off, standing at the Lincoln Memorial and looking out with his guitar over the distant, illuminated Capitol across the National Mall. He sang “Land of Hope and Dreams.” He had stood there in January 2009, too, then before a vast crowd lining the Reflecting Pool, to serenade the incoming President Barack Obama with “The Rising.”

The noon-time ascension of the 46th president came with poetry, trumpets, Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, Garth Brooks singing “Amazing Grace” and keen memories of the insurrection on these grounds by Trump supporters only two weeks earlier.

“Democracy has prevailed,” Biden said in his sober remarks, adding, “We must end this uncivil war.”

“Modest, austere, grave, calming, cleansing, inspiring,” historian Michael Beschloss said of Biden’s speech.

The bigger names may well have been upstaged by 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, whose poem spoke of a country “Where a skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother, can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.” Trump didn’t summon a poet for his inauguration in 2017; not all presidents do.

Biden emerged from Blair House, the president’s official guesthouse, to open his day just as Trump vanished inside the big plane at Joint Base Andrews as if their footsteps had been choreographed. But the outgoing president was not one to coordinate anything with the incoming one.

Trump never conceded the election, declined to attend the inauguration, and upended the tradition of sending a government plane to bring the president-elect to Washington. Nor did he invite the Bidens to the White House for morning coffee and tea, as the Obamas had done for the Trumps in 2017.

He hewed to one tradition, leaving a letter to his successor — a “very generous” one, Biden said without disclosing its contents right away.

Biden opened his presidency acknowledging former presidents on the platform, Republican and Democrat, and Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, who attended the ceremony and acknowledged Biden’s victory in ways Trump never did. Biden did not offer a personal acknowledgment of the man he defeated, nor did Trump mention him.


Under threat of conviction from the Senate on an accusation of inciting insurrection, Trump departed with a perfunctory nod to those who have died from the coronavirus, an obligatory wish of “luck” to the next administration without mentioning Biden’s name, a premature claim on any success Biden might have reviving the economy, and the cloudy threat of a return.

“Have a nice life,” Trump said in remarks to well-wishers upon his departure. As Air Force One flew low along the coast, Biden’s inauguration played on Fox News on television aboard the flight. Trump’s family was on board. He spent some of the flight with flight staff who went up to him to say goodbye.

Rituals of the republic went on without him, though in a way never before seen. Washington got on with things, this time with masks on everyone (except Brooks), people taking care to distance from each other and some 25,000 National Guard troops and police deployed to keep the peace.

In a striking tableau at the Capitol, three former presidents and first ladies of different parties mingled as though at a cocktail party. And again, in hushed moments at Arlington National Cemetery, where Biden and Harris led a wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and spouses watched.

It was among the inaugural events where a new president and his successor normally come together but Trump had decided to skip the day’s proceedings and Biden had said that was fine with him.

The inauguration crowds were sparse by design, with invitation-only guests at the immediate scene and 200,000 small flags standing in the place of however many citizens would have come if the capital’s core hadn’t been under military lock and key and if no pandemic had been sweeping the country.

The parade to the White House in the late afternoon had all of the usual pageantry and military pizazz but none of the crowds that would be normally lining the route. Biden, a famously tactile politician, had little to touch other than the hand of his wife, Jill, when he and his family walked the last leg to their new home.

He darted away a few times to the sidewalk approaching the White House, saying hello to Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, at one point and giving weatherman Al Roker a fist bump as they stood among the officials and journalists in the secure area.

Earlier more than 100 people waited in the cold waiting to get through a security checkpoint to reach Pennsylvania Avenue, where they hoped to catch a glimpse of the procession. Many had to watch on their phones.

“We’ve turned the page,” said Vernal Crooms, who attended Howard University when Harris studied there but didn’t know her. He was happy to see the Trump era end. “Light prevailed,” he said, “and the lie didn’t last.”

Raelyn Maxwell of Park City, Utah, came with an American flag, a poster board sign reading “Dear Women of Color, thank you” and a bouquet of roses she hoped to toss to Kamala Harris if she could somehow get close enough to the new vice president.

“I protested 45’s inauguration,” she said of Trump, the 45th president, “and I wanted to be here when he left. “And I wanted to celebrate the new president.” She also carried Champagne to toast the occasion with friends here from France.

Biden, the second Roman Catholic president, attended a morning mass at St. Matthews Church with at least three Baptists — Harris and Republican leaders Mitch McConnell from the Senate and Kevin McCarthy from the House — and the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who is Jewish.

It was one of those bipartisan, not to mention multi-faith, events that Washington is known for, coexisting with searing political division.

St. Matthew, patron saint of civil servants, was a tax-collector and, on the brighter side, an apostle who spread the gospel exhorting people to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,” according to the church’s teachings.

There were at least stirrings of that Wednesday.

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, declaring that “democracy has prevailed” and summoning American resilience and unity to confront the deeply divided nation’s historic confluence of crises.

Denouncing a national “uncivil war,” Biden took the oath at a U.S. Capitol that had been battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. Then, taking his place in the White House Oval Office, he plunged into a stack of executive actions that began to undo the heart of his polarizing predecessor’s agenda on matters from the deadly pandemic to climate change.

At the Capitol, with America’s tradition of peaceful transfers of power never appearing more fragile, the ceremony unfolded within a circle of security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, Biden gazed out on a cold Washington morning dotted with snow flurries to see over 200,000 American flags planted on the National Mall to symbolize those who could not attend in person.

“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 and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden declared in his speech. “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”

Youtube video thumbnail

History was made at his side, as Kamala Harris became the first woman to be vice president. The former U.S. senator from California is also the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency and the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the U.S. government.

Biden never mentioned his predecessor, who defied tradition and left town ahead of the ceremony, but his speech was an implicit rebuke of Donald Trump. The new president denounced “lies told for power and for-profit” and was blunt about the challenges ahead.

Central among them: the surging virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the United States, as well as economic strains and a national reckoning over race.

“We have much to do in this winter of peril, and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain,” Biden said. “Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged, or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”

Biden was eager to go big early, with an ambitious first 100 days including a push to speed up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations to anxious Americans and pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. It included a blitz of executive orders on matters that don’t require congressional approval — a mix of substantive and symbolic steps to unwind the Trump years. His actions included re-entry into the Paris Climate Accords and a mandate for wearing masks on federal property.

“There’s no time to start like today,” a masked Biden said. in the Oval Office. Then he swore in hundreds of aides — virtually — telling them, “You’re my possibilities.”

The absence of Biden’s predecessor from the inaugural ceremony underscored the national rift to be healed.

But a bipartisan trio of former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — were there to witness the transfer of power. Trump, awaiting his second impeachment trial, was at his Florida resort by the time the swearing-in took place.

Biden, in his third run for the presidency, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. Four years after Trump’s “American Carnage” speech painted a dark portrait of national decay, Biden warned that the fabric of the nation’s democracy was tearing but could be repaired.

“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart,” Biden said. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”

Swearing the oath with his hand on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for 128 years, Biden came to office with a well of empathy and resolve born by personal tragedy as well as a depth of experience forged from more than four decades in Washington. At age 78, he is the oldest president inaugurated.

Both he, Harris, and their spouses walked the last short part of the route to the White House after an abridged parade. Biden then strode into the Oval Office, a room he knew well as vice president, for the first time as commander in chief.

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.(Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

At the Capitol earlier, Biden, like all those in attendance, wore a face mask except when speaking. Tens of thousands of National Guard troops were on the streets to provide security precisely two weeks after a violent mob of Trump supporters, incited by the Republican president, stormed the building in an attempt to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory.

“Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people,” Biden said. “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.”

The tense atmosphere evoked the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, who was secretly transported to Washington to avoid assassins on the eve of the Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural in 1945 when he opted for a small, secure ceremony at the White House in the waning months of World War II.

But Washington all but deserted downtown and in its federal areas, was quiet. And calm also prevailed outside heavily fortified state Capitol buildings across the nation after the FBI had warned of the possibility for armed demonstrations leading up to the inauguration.

The day began with a reach across the political aisle after four years of bitter partisan battles under Trump. At Biden’s invitation, congressional leaders from both parties bowed their heads in prayer in the socially distanced service a few blocks from the White House.

Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts; Harris by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for Trump, sat nearby as Lady Gaga, holding a golden microphone, sang the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps band.

When Pence, in a last act of the outgoing administration, left the Capitol, he walked through a door with badly cracked glass from the riot two weeks ago. Later, Biden, Harris, and their spouses were joined by the former presidents to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony.

By afternoon, a White House desolate in Trump’s waning days sprang back to life, with Biden staffers settling in and new COVID-19 safety measures, like plastic shields on desks, in place.

In the evening, in lieu of the traditional balls that welcome a new president to Washington, Biden and Harris appeared separately at the Lincoln Memorial to take part in a televised concert that also marked the return of A-list celebrities to the White House orbit after they largely eschewed Trump. Among those in the lineup: Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Bidens ended their evening watching fireworks from a White House balcony.

This was not an inauguration for the crowds. But Americans in the capital city nonetheless brought their hopes to the moment.

The Bidens walk near the White House during a presidential escort Wednesday. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

“I feel so hopeful, so thankful,” said Karen Jennings Crooms, a D.C. resident who hoped to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue with her husband. “It makes us sad that this is where we are but hopeful that democracy will win out in the end. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

Trump was the first president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor. After a brief farewell celebration at nearby Joint Base Andrews, he boarded Air Force One for the final time as president.

“I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening and I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better,” said Trump. He wished the incoming administration well but never mentioned Biden’s name.

Trump did adhere to one tradition and left a personal note for Biden in the Oval Office. Biden would only tell reporters that it was “a very generous letter.”

Trump, in his farewell video remarks, hinted at a political return, saying “we will be back in some form.” Without question, he will shadow Biden’s first days in office.

Trump’s second impeachment trial could start as early as this week. That will test the ability of the Senate, now coming under Democratic control, to balance impeachment proceedings with confirmation hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet choices.