After a bizarre four-year interregnum in which America’s democratic institutions were assaulted and denigrated by the 45th president of the United States, the 46th president in his inaugural address gave reassurance to the country.

“Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile,” Joe Biden said, standing outside the U.S. Capitol that, only two weeks before, had been overrun by violent extremists intent on keeping Donald Trump in power. “And at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

Sitting nearby as Biden spoke was Vice President Mike Pence, who had been a target of the rioters. On his final morning in office, Pence performed his duties with dignity and respect. He had the honor of being escorted from the Capitol by his successor, Vice President Kamala Harris, and was seen off with a military salute. That honor usually goes to the departing president, but Trump – a man with no class, no dignity and no appreciation for sacred rituals – had already fled to Florida in the early morning hours to wallow in his disgrace and defeat.

Biden spoke firmly and directly about the Capitol riot and the lies that inspired it, and about the necessity of answering mendacity and homegrown terror with truth and renewed unity. His sentiment was reinforced by others on the inaugural stage, including Lady Gaga, whose powerful rendition of the national anthem was punctuated when she turned and raised her palm toward the Stars and Stripes rippling above her, singing “…our flag was still there.”

Especially poignant and apt were the words of the 22-year-old Black woman from Los Angeles, Amanda Gorman, the United States’ first National Youth Poet Laureate, who, in her inaugural poem, addressed the impotence of the Capitol rioters and the feckless leader who urged them to action:

“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

It can never be permanently defeated.”

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