The passing of power from a dangerous man to one set on healing his country is a relief. But American democracy remains in peril
It was a moment of immense relief across the world, rather than unbridled celebration. Washington saw an orderly transition of power at the Capitol, just two weeks after the attack on it; the departure of a man who has thrived on division and the anointment of Joe Biden, who pledges unity; the arrival of Kamala Harris – the first female vice-president and a woman of colour – after the racism and misogyny of Donald Trump. Yet there were no cheering crowds to greet the new president, and 25,000 members of the National Guard stood watch, thanks to his predecessor’s legacy: the deadly toll of the pandemic and the political violence epitomised by this month’s insurrection. That threat did not recede when the 46th president took his oath of office. It is part of America’s body politic, as are the bitter political forces that birthed it. Though Mr Trump was resoundingly defeated, more than 70 million Americans voted for him and a huge number of those now believe that President Biden stole his job. One in five voters supported the storming of the Capitol.
Mr Trump, petty to the last, slunk away to Florida rather than face his defeat. But whether or not the twice-impeached ex-president can maintain political momentum, Trumpism in the broader sense is thriving. Its next standard bearer – there are plenty of hopefuls – could well be smarter and more dangerous. So the sombre mood was not only inevitable but apt. The perils facing the republic have rarely been greater. Mr Biden’s speech rose to the moment. He acknowledged the constant struggles of his nation, and the current dangers. But he also promised: “Democracy has prevailed … Our better angels have always prevailed.”