In his inaugural address Jan. 20, a newly sworn-in President Joe Biden seeks to unite the country in the backdrop of a global pandemic, racial tensions and the second impeachment of his predecessor.
Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan and editor and co-author of “I Do Solemnly Swear: Presidential Inaugural Addresses of the Last Five Decades,” said the world will listen closely to how the 46th president plans to lead the United States.
What is the main point that should Biden address in his speech?
He just has a short amount of time to talk to an audience that’s going to be smaller in person, but tens of millions of people are going to be watching, both in the country and around the world.
It’s been a tough year in America with the pandemic, as well as the political turmoil and division. The first thing Biden needs to do-and certainly the most important-is to unify a very fractured country. That has been his platform since running for president. Many people will look for him to repair a divided nation, and his words can be calming.
We’ve seen the history of inaugural addresses that use famous phrases, and so he’s going to look at former presidents’ speeches. There will be religious undertones and things like that in his speech. But the first point, before he can even govern, is to heal a nation that’s been through so much for the last months and almost a year.
You’ve written about inauguration speeches. How important-at least from a historical perspective-is this speech?
The country is in a real watershed moment. We’ve seen some of this in history, going back to the inaugural addresses of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression, and even President Obama in a real recession that happened. There have been many presidents who have come into these tumultuous periods-and Biden is in the middle of another one.
And it’s not simply economic uncertainty. There’s a global pandemic that occurs every hundred years. We just had this political strife and the first president ever to be impeached twice. Thus, it’s a combination of foreign policy, economics and all of these different factors that he has to deal with.
No one envies the position he’s in, but at the same time he’s wanted to become president for his entire life. He’s been in public service for more than 50 years, including serving in the Senate and vice president. He’s had a firsthand view of really tough situations and been present for previous inaugural addresses. If anyone can meet this really unique time, it is somebody like Biden. I can’t think of anyone else who would be in a better position to have more experience to give this important address to the nation.
What will world leaders want to hear from the speech?
Because of the last four years of Trump’s presidency, some of our global alliances have been frayed. Some relationships with other countries have been negative. Our allies have watched the recent insurrection from the Capitol. They’re certainly concerned about the foundations of democracy, the United States and what the future holds.
It’s a given that everyone is interested in how the United States is dealing with the pandemic, economic troubles and political instability. This will be a part of Biden’s address, talking about domestic policy and what he liked to get passed in Congress. He’ll make sure the world knows this-that America is going to be back and the style of leadership is going to be different in terms of how it deals with the epidemic and other issues. Biden has an even bigger job to reassure people who have been concerned about the direction of the country for the last several years, especially just in a few weeks.