'My whole soul is in this' - Joe Biden brings message of unity, but perilous challenges face the US
Hope has not been an emotion felt in many corners of America for the four years that Donald Trump occupied the Oval Office.
But as a few snowflakes fell in Washington DC - a small echo to the swearing in of John F Kennedy some 60 years ago - it finally felt like a particularly dark period in America’s history was beginning the thaw.
Both Presidents Biden and JFK delivered speeches which were short, to the point, and devoid of partisan rhetoric. Both represented a symbol of change among deep challenges.
But, of course, none of those who have held the office before Mr Biden will face the unique tests which he will.
Recognising the peril which laid ahead for America, Mr 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. A once in a century virus that silently stalks the country has taken as many lives in one year as in all of World War Two.”
He added: “We’re entering what may be the darkest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation, one nation.”
And the impact of coronavirus hung heavy over a ceremony so often judged by the crowds packed on the National Mall.
Instead of the new President’s supporters lining the lawns, 200,000 small US, state and territorial flags, intended to honour the nearly 400,000 Americans killed in the coronavirus pandemic, replaced them.
But face masks - another defining image of the last 12 months - did little to hide the jubilation, let alone the relief.
Mr Biden did not mention Mr Trump in his speech, but the departure from the populism-scarred era spoke for itself. Instead, there was of unity and optimism, of bipartisan co-operation, and a return to normalcy.
“In another January on New Year’s Day in 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 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’,” Mr Biden said.
“My whole soul is in it today, on this January day. My whole soul is in this.
“Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face - anger, resentment and hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness.”
And moving to reassure these were not empty words, he said: “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new.”
Mr Biden’s abiding message was that of a fresh start.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” he said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war and we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
Invoking the memories of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and women marching for the right to vote on the same spot at which he delivered today’s speech, Mr Biden added: “Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
And for many, a change is exactly what America needs.