July 30, 2021

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What Is Your Reaction to the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

On Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. The ceremony took place on the steps of the Capitol, where then-President Donald J. Trump’s supporters rioted just two weeks earlier.

What is your reaction to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s inauguration? Did you watch the swearing-in ceremony? What does this transition in national leadership, taking place in an exceptionally turbulent period in American history, mean to you?

In your view, was the attendance of leaders from opposing parties a convincing display of unity — a major theme of Mr. Biden’s inaugural address? Did you see Mr. Trump’s absence from the ceremony as further evidence of the country’s division? How effectively do you think Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will be able to govern the fractured country they inherit?

In “Biden Inaugurated as the 46th President Amid a Cascade of Crises,” Peter Baker writes:

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, taking office at a moment of profound economic, health and political crises with a promise to seek unity after a tumultuous four years that tore at the fabric of American society.

With his hand on a five-inch-thick Bible that has been in his family for 128 years, Mr. Biden recited the 35-word oath of office swearing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” in a ceremony administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., completing the process at 11:49 a.m., 11 minutes before the authority of the presidency formally changes hands.

The ritual transfer of power came shortly after Kamala Devi Harris was sworn in as vice president by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, her hand on a Bible that once belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights icon and Supreme Court justice. Ms. Harris’s ascension made her the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States and the first Black American and first person of South Asian descent to hold the nation’s second highest office.

In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Biden declared that “democracy has prevailed” after a test of the system by a defeated president, Donald J. Trump, who sought to overturn the results of an election and then encouraged a mob that stormed the Capitol two weeks ago to block the final count. But he called for Americans to put aside their deep and dark divisions to come together to confront the coronavirus pandemic, economic troubles and the scourge of racism.

“We must end this uncivil war — red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Mr. Biden said in the 21-minute address that blended soaring themes with folksy touches. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment.”

The article continues:

In characteristic fashion, Mr. Trump once again defied tradition by leaving Washington hours before the swearing in of his successor rather than face the reality of his own election defeat, although Mike Pence, his vice president, did attend.

Mr. Trump flew to Florida, where he plans to live at his Mar-a-Lago estate. But within days, the Senate will open the former president’s impeachment trial on the charge that he incited an insurrection by encouraging the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop the formal counting of the Electoral College votes ratifying his defeat.

The sight of the nation’s newly installed president and vice president on the same West Front of the Capitol occupied just two weeks ago by the marauding pro-Trump crowd underscored how surreal the day was. Unlike most inaugurals suffused with joy and a sense of fresh beginning, the festivities on the nation’s 59th Inauguration Day served to illustrate America’s troubles.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris? What, to you, does this transition in leadership represent?

  • In his address, Mr. Biden said that “democracy has prevailed” just two weeks after the riot by the former president’s supporters at the U.S. Capitol. Do you agree? Why or why not? How do you think Mr. Biden should approach the residual anger and distrust of many of Mr. Trump’s supporters? Do you think Mr. Biden’s message of unity is realistic?

  • Did you watch the swearing-in ceremony, or have you ever watched one before? If so, what parts were most compelling to you? The oaths of office? Lady Gaga? The inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman? What is the function of political ceremonies of this kind? Do you think they are they meaningful rituals for the country to observe, or empty pageantry?

  • Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first Black person and first person of South Asian descent ever to hold the vice presidency — and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States. What do these “firsts” mean to you? What, if anything, do you think they say about the country’s trajectory?

  • While Mr. Trump did not attend the ceremony, leaders from both parties did, including the departing Vice President Mike Pence and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. What message do you think party leaders who attended the ceremony were trying to send? What message did Mr. Trump send by skipping it? What is the significance of opposing party leaders gathering together to observe the transfer of power just two weeks after a riot at the Capitol disrupted the democratic process?

  • Immediately after taking office, President Biden unleashed a flurry of executive actions to overturn President Trump’s policies on the pandemic, the environment, immigration and the economy. How do you feel about the policy changes underway now that the Biden-Harris administration has begun? How much of President Trump’s legacy do you think Mr. Biden will be able to effectively dismantle? To what extent do you think Mr. Trump’s agenda will live on beyond his administration?


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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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