Biden delivers conciliatory but defiant speech on unity and preserving democracy

The president did not mention Donald Trump by name in his lengthy speech but repudiated his record

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US President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech capped on Wednesday a message of both healing and defiance as he prepares to repair the legacy of division, domestic threats and challenges to American democracy that he inherited from former president Donald Trump.

Mr Biden did not mention Mr Trump by name anywhere in his lengthy speech but repudiated the polarising record of his predecessor, and struck a tone of unity and urgency in his first address as commander-in-chief.

"Hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you, I will be a president for all Americans,” Mr Biden said.

He called on Americans to show strength and resolve in the face of the looming challenges of extremism and the pandemic, which has killed over 400,000 people in the country, as well as the rising threat of white supremacy.

"My fellow Americans, in the work before us, we're going to need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter,” he said.

Taking place two weeks after the deadly attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, Mr Biden condemned, from those same steps that the rioters breached, the assault on American democracy.

“A riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever."

He also decried the culture of misinformation which spread, was fuelled by and saw its peak under Mr Trump.

"Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies...each of us has a duty and a defend the truth and defeat the lies,” he said.

Mr Trump, without offering evidence, had cast doubts about the results of the election and then incited the violence at the Capitol, leading to his second impeachment by the House of Representatives last week.

Some of rioters had ties to white supremacists, an extremist group that Mr Biden condemned by name.

“And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism we must defeat,” he said.

He called for sustaining US democracy and a renewal of its values. “This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve."

Observers on opposite sides of the political spectrum praised the speech. US historian Michael Beschloss called it “modest, austere, grave, calming, cleansing, inspiring.

British historian Simon Schama concurred.

But bridging the divide is now Mr Biden’s most daunting task as he begins to govern. Americans are divided on a host of issues including mask regulations and vaccines. The new president is calling on citizens to “join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature.”

“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage,” he said.