The presidency of Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a time of continual disarray and chaos. So much so, that it has been widely observed that the election of former Vice President Joe Biden represents a “return to normalcy” and a restoration of the comparably calmer Obama years. However, as the 59th presidential inauguration took place last week at a fortified Capitol Hill Building swarming with members of the National Guard, amidst a subdued and socially distant crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation in the United States felt far from normal.
Two weeks prior to the inauguration, a violent mob, incited by Mr Trump’s repeated false claims of electoral fraud, descended on Capitol Hill. Facing little resistance from the Capitol Police, the rioters quickly broke through the barricades and ransacked the building, looting and vandalizing lawmakers’ offices and seeking to forcibly prevent Congressional approval of the Electoral College vote. Perhaps what is most alarming is how much worse it could have been. Enraged by the Vice President’s recognition of Mr Biden’s win, some Trump supporters erected a noose and gallows outside the building, and then roamed the halls equipped with zip ties, chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
The attempted coup sparked an international outcry and even kick-started the tech giants into finally banning Donald Trump from their social media sites. More significantly, Democrats swiftly moved to charge Mr Trump with inciting insurrection, leading to his impeachment by the House of Representatives for a second time. A Senate trial will begin on 9 February and will require 17 Republicans to vote in favour of conviction in order to reach the required two-thirds majority. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he is open to convicting Mr Trump, however, such a vote would be a surprisingly rare showing of bipartisan cooperation. If he is impeached by the Senate, the former president will be banned from taking public office again.
Despite refusing to attend the inauguration ceremony and now muzzled online, the former president cast a long shadow over proceedings in Washington. In his first presidential address, Joe Biden urged a nation beset by crises to come together and heal. Referring to the attack on the Capitol, he declared that “democracy had prevailed.” Before that, Kamala Harris became the first woman, and the first woman of colour to be sworn in as vice president.
During his first week in office, President Biden signed a raft of executive orders, undoing some of his predecessor’s most divisive policies, such as overturning travel restrictions on certain Muslim-majority countries and reversing the ban on transgender people serving in the US military. The new administration also moved to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and confirmed the US will remain in the World Health Organisation (WHO), whilst joining the group’s global COVAX initiative. In an effort to curb the suffering caused by deepening public health and economic crises, Mr Biden has also introduced a $1.9tn COVID-19 stimulus package. Some of the measures, including a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, have already drawn considerable opposition from Republican senators.
With a slim Democratic majority in the lower and upper houses, the race is on to to pass crucial legislation before the midterm elections in 2022, as the party of the incumbent president almost always loses seats. The coming months will likely be dominated by the president’s efforts to reverse the damage caused by his predecessor. The new administration will aim to get vaccines and financial support to ordinary Americans, whilst Mr Trump’s impeachment trial will determine the future direction of the GOP. Only after all that, can the president deliver on his promise of a return to normality.
By Jack Seal