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Key points from Joe Biden's first speech as President of the United States

The 46th president called for unity at a time America is facing huge challenges.
Joe Biden

Joe Biden has officially been inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, with Kamala Harris confirmed as the first woman Vice President in U.S. history.

Speaking in the shadows of the U.S. Capitol that just two weeks ago was the scene of an insurrection in an attempt to prevent Biden's installation as president – and subsequently led to now-former President Donald Trump being impeached for a second time – President Biden used his speech to call for unity as the country faces one of its darkest hours.

Here's a look at some of the key points from his speech:

A country at one of its darkest hours

On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump spoke of the "American carnage" in a fiery inaugural speech lamenting the state of the country. Four years on, the nation is reeling from a turbulent year that has seen 400,000-plus Americans die from COVID-19; an economic fallout that has cost millions of jobs; a police killing that sparked widespread protests, rioting, and destruction amid renewed calls for racial justice; and a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that claimed several lives.

Biden laid out the situation and more, noting that the climate change emergency has never been more urgent, with the president expected to immediately bring the country back into the Paris Climate Agreement.

"Few people in our nation's history have been more challenged or found the time more challenging or difficult than we are now," Biden said.

"A once in a century virus silently stalks the country, has taken more lives in a year than America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost, hundreds of thousands of businesses closed, a cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.

"The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can't be any more desperate or any more clear than now. A rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, that we must confront and we will defeat."

A call for unity

"To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more of words, requires the most elusive of all things in democracy: Unity. Unity."

At a time when the two parties have arguably never been further apart ideologically, Biden used his inaugural speech to make a plea for unity, which was a common theme throughout his election campaign, depicting himself as someone who could bring together an increasing fractious country.

"My whole soul is in this, bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation, and I ask everyone to join me in this cause. uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment and hatred, extremism and lawlessness, disease, joblessness and hopelessness, with unity we can do great things important things," he said.

"I know speaking of unity might seem a foolish fantasy these days, I know the forces that divide us are deep and real, but I also know that this is not new. But our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart the battle is perennial, and victory is never assured.

"Through Civil War and the Great Depression, through World War and 9/11 ... our better Angels have always prevailed. In each of those moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.

"We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. 

"Today at this time, let's start afresh all of us. Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war.

"We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue. Rural against urban, conservative against liberals. 

Dissent, but peacefully

The Jan. 6 insurrection attempt weighed heavily over the speech, with Biden, Democrats, and Republican leaders such as Mitch McConnell having previously denounced the violent attempt to overthrow American democracy.

As mentioned above, Biden specifically called out the rise in white supremacist extremism that was particularly prevalent in the Capitol riot.

Moving forward, he says that disagreement remains one of the key backbones of America, but made it clear that threats to America's democratic institutions will not be tolerated.

"Here we stand, just days after 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. not ever," he said.

"To all those who supported our campaign, I'm humbled by the faith you placed in us. To all those who didn't support us I will say this, hear me out as we move forward. Take your measure of me and my heart, if you still disagree so be it, that's democracy, that's America.

"The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our republic is perhaps this nation's greatest strength, yet hear me clearly, disagreement must not lead to disunion, and I pledge this to you, I will be a president for all Americans. All Americans. And I will promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did."

Earlier in the speech, he called on Americans of all political persuasion to "stand in another person's shoes," empathize with them.

"Because here's the thing about life, there's no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days you will need a hand, there are other days where we're called to lend a hand. And if we are this way our country will be more prosperous ... and we can still disagree."

Call for truth, end to lies

At a time when misinformation and lies becoming stock and trade more than ever in political discourse, aided by the proliferation of social media and the encouragement of foreign adversaries.

This culminated in Jan. 6 with the insurrection, fueled by the falsehood that Biden had lost the election, which was shared by former President Trump and scores of Republican lawmakers, 147 of whom voted in Congress not to certify Biden's election win.

"These last weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson," he said. "There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially leaders ... to defend the truth and defeat the lies." 

"We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this."

Moment of silence for pandemic victims

One of the moving moments during his 21-minute speech came when Biden called for a moment of silence for the 400,000-plus Americans who have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We will finally face this pandemic as one nation. We will get through this together. Together," he said.

Prior to that moment, he made a pledge that America will re-take its place as a Democratic leader across the globe.

"We all understand the world is watching us today. America has been tested and we've come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to beat yesterday's challenges, but today's and tomorrow's. 

"And lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example. We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, prosperity and security.

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