‘‘We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn today before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.”
And if you’re thinking that sounds like a quote from President Joseph Biden after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America, you are forgiven, but wrong.
They were the opening words of newly sworn President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.
It was a speech many will recall ending with the stirring JFK challenge to his people: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It became an international battle cry leading to the birth of the Peace Corps, a legendary force for good works around the world.
Last Wednesday, President Biden wasted no time announcing that the arrogant, boastful days of “America First,” the calling card of his just-departed predecessor, were over. “This is America’s day,” he announced. “This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope.”
And for the next half hour or so, he lifted his nation from confused, chaotic fear with calm assurances that democracy, though fragile, will survive. “Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause … the will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded.”
The remarkable change in presidential attitude requires adjustment. The world had become used to a boastful president. It will take time for even the USA’s friendliest neighbours to get used to one that preaches: “We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be, and we must be.”
Gone are the boasts. In their place, there are hints of England’s hero Sir Winston Churchill, who once bluntly told his people when things were going badly, all he could offer in the immediate future was “blood, sweat, toil and tears” and the promise that “we shall pull through.”
President Biden warned that the way ahead might be rough at times, but “we will press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. Much to gain.”
It is true that President Biden is not my president, but he is my next-door neighbour, and his decisions and the conduct of his people can seriously affect my lifestyle. I am happy for my friends down south who, as their new president said, are “good people and part of a great nation.” They deserve a President who understands the difference between serving the people he leads and manipulating them to feed his insatiable vanity.