With each inauguration of a new US president, we often hear about their predecessors.
Perhaps it’s because of the former presidents in attendance at the actual ceremony — or this year, the one who was not.
Joe Biden’s inauguration was a chance for “46” to put his own stamp on the role. But if you paid attention, you likely heard him reference another president: Abraham Lincoln.
What were the main throwbacks?
Aside from symbolic nods — such the service for COVID-19 victims at the Lincoln Memorial on January 19 — there were also two strong links back to Lincoln in President Biden’s inaugural address.
This line from Joe Biden referenced one of the most enduring phrases from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: the “better angels”.
In the face of America’s challenges (at the time, civil war), it was a deeply personal call from the President to the best parts of human nature — positive, constructive, good elements of people’s characters.
You can read the full transcript here.
We also heard President Biden refer to the Emancipation Proclamation, a feature of Lincoln’s first term.
“When he put pen to paper the president said, and I quote: ‘If my name ever goes down in history, it’ll be for this act, and my whole soul is in it,'” cited Biden.
Abraham Lincoln issued the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, several years into the Civil War. It declared that all slaves in the rebellion states would be free.
Many see the document as a turning point in the conflict. It wasn’t just about preserving the Union anymore; it was also about the (eventual) abolition of slavery — positioning it as essential to any post-war America.
It would become a defining feature of Lincoln’s presidency.
Why would Biden link to Lincoln?
To put it very simply: he can (somewhat) relate.
Although he will lead at a completely different time, much like president Lincoln, Joe Biden is grappling with the challenge of a deeply divided country.
For Abraham Lincoln it was the destructive, painful Civil War that saw years of bloody battles and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
More than a century on, President Joe Biden steps up at another volatile moment in US history.
Deep political divisions have long existed in the US, but four years of a Donald Trump presidency seemed to exacerbate tensions.
Just days before the inauguration, those tensions would be on violent display, with deadly riots at the very place Joe Biden would take the oath of office.
By his second inauguration in 1865, Abraham Lincoln had shifted his focus to a solemn call for healing.
“Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle.”
His legacy as a man who brought the country together — a “Saviour of the Union” — is one that has long endured; in some ways held up as the prime example for his successors.
Joe Biden used his own presidential campaign to build a similar image of himself as a leader that would unify and heal, often referring to the election as a battle for the “soul of the nation”.
These sentiments were echoed in last week’s inaugural address.
“And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail.”
In the same way that Lincoln called people to appeal to their “better angels”, Biden too called for tolerance and humility — and a fresh start.
“Let’s begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another.”
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”
The challenge ahead
These nods to Lincoln bring an element of familiarity back to US politics and with it, potentially, a sense of return to stability after years of turbulence.
What remains now is the reality of the challenges that lie ahead.
With the pandemic far from under control, the number of lives lost will continue to grow. Add to that the severe and ongoing economic impact.
Beyond that, there is the task of unpicking four years of leadership that sowed mistrust in the media and allowed misinformation to flourish.
The resistance will be fierce — 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. Many are still openly disputing the election’s result.
This week, under the gaze of the 16th president, Joe Biden began his own long process of leading healing, with a memorial for the 400,000-plus American lives lost to COVID-19.
It was a moment of strong symbolism that bound two different periods of deep loss for the country.
Abraham Lincoln did not get to see his own push for unity through. Just 42 days into his second term, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
But his lessons endure almost like a presidential blueprint: appealing to the best parts of people and as a leader, being steadfast in the fight for what is right.
If President Biden’s inauguration was any measure, we may see even more nods to these ideas over the next four years.
Thank you for stopping by and checking out this news release about national news called “Joe Biden inherits a deeply divided America, perhaps that’s why he gave a nod to Abraham Lincoln”. This news article is presented by My Local Pages Australia as part of our local news services.
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