What A Difference Four Years Makes


Photo Courtesy/ Flickr GPA Photo Archive

As I watched the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible to have seen this coming four years ago. Did Trump’s inaugural address and first few actions as president foreshadow this culmination of the country’s deep and extreme divide? In hindsight, it was clear from his first few weeks as president what direction this country was headed in. 

It’s been two weeks since Joe Biden was sworn into office, and he’s taking over an extremely divided country —  one that is perhaps the most divided it’s been since the Civil War. In comparing the beginning of the Trump and Biden administrations — specifically their inaugural speeches and their first official actions — it’s clear that the Biden administration will be undeniably different. 

The inaugural speech sets the tone for the incoming presidential administration, and although it wasn’t nearly as divisive as his campaign rhetoric, Trump’s speech certainly set the stage for the next four years. He went in hard on the populism angle, suggesting that he would put the power back in the hands of the people, echoing talking points that he knew would strengthen his base. “January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” He said at the start of his address. “The forgotten men and women of our country, will be forgotten no longer.”

The result? A cult-like following that would defend and support his every move and was passionate enough to take up arms if necessary. His mass appeal stemmed from his ability to exploit the prejudices and fears of his base, and his speech was drenched in fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrants, Muslim extremists, and foreign countries — all groups he passed extensive and far-reaching legislation against throughout his term. Construction of the border wall, the anti-muslim travel ban, and attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are all among actions he took during his first few months in office, along with a slew of ‘America First’ foreign policy decisions like leaving the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Just one day after his inauguration, the division was on full display with hundreds of peaceful protestors marching on Washington D.C. in a demonstration that eventually turned violent. Fast forward four years and things have only gotten worse. 

Biden’s speech took on a completely different tone, and so have his first weeks in office. He acknowledged the weight of the many problems facing us — a pandemic, racial injustice, climate change, political extremism, unemployment — but his speech remained optimistic. He spoke about the potential that America has to be better and put the onus on the American people to alter the way we think about and interact with each other. He recognized that our divisions run deep but made a compelling case for unity, suggesting that we “walk a mile” in the shoes of people we disagree with. He made a clear distinction between differences of opinion and hatred, and said that as a country we need to fight the “political extremism, white supremacy [and] domestic terrorism” within our borders. 

Since his inauguration, Biden has carried out numerous actions as president in an attempt to get this country back on track and address the issues he outlined in his inaugural speech and throughout his campaign. He’s already shown that handling the pandemic is a top priority: He released his official COVID-19 plan, which vows to increase vaccine access and distribution, signed an executive order mandating masks and social distancing in federal buildings, stopped the country’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and established a COVID-19 response team. To address widespread economic insecurity, he revealed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes $1,400 in direct payments and unemployment benefits, extends eviction moratoriums and pauses student loans. To address the worsening climate, he has stopped the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and has begun to get rid of over 100 Trump-era anti-environmental actions. To address racial inequality, he has signed four executive orders advancing fair housing and reforming the prison system. 

If his first few weeks are any indication of the direction of Biden’s presidency, I think it’s safe to say we are now more equipped to handle the many problems that afflict this country. We certainly have a lot of work to do, and while Biden cannot fix all of our problems, having a president who promotes unity and progress rather than division and fear will no doubt put us on the right track.