tca/dpa/GNA – A president-elect who campaigned on uniting America’s disparate political factions will now take office at a time when the country is recovering from an unprecedented bout of political violence, after an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday — encouraged by outgoing President Donald Trump — attempted to prevent a peaceful transfer of power to the incoming administration and shook members of both parties to their core.
Even amid an ongoing pandemic and economic downturn, Joe Biden’s most pressing challenge when he assumes power later this month may now be calming a rattled nation and assuring it that the unrest seen in Washington won’t continue under his watch.
“Through war and strife, America has endured much, and we will endure here and we will prevail again and will prevail now,” Biden said during a speech Wednesday from Wilmington, Delaware, in which he called the violence at the Capitol an act that “borders on sedition.”
“The work of the movement and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy, of decency, honor, respect, the rule of law,” he continued.
The country, Biden added, must return to a politics “that’s about solving problems” and not “stoking the flames of hate and chaos.”
The scenes from the nation’s capital Wednesday afternoon were unprecedented: Trump supporters, many of whom had watched the president give a speech on the National Mall earlier in the day, clashed with police officers before many of them gained entry into the Capitol building and made their way to the doors to the House and Senate floors.
Their approach halted the electoral vote certification process already underway — the event that brought many of rioters to Washington in the first place — and soon forced the evacuation of lawmakers, staffers and journalists.
Some members of the mob eventually forced their way inside the chambers, taking pictures of the largely abandoned rooms. The Associated Press reported at least one woman had died after being shot inside the Capitol.
That the violence halted congressional certification of Biden’s victory was not lost on the Democrat, who bemoaned how a usually non-controversial process had become fraught after some Republican lawmakers, encouraged by Trump, planned to object to some of the state’s results based on unfounded allegations of fraud.
Trump, in fact, appears poised to remain the country’s — and Biden’s — biggest obstacle to unity. The president on Wednesday released a videotaped message urging his supporters to withdraw from the Capitol, though he did so hours after the violence began and only after sending a pair of tweets telling his supporters to be peaceful but making no request for them to leave.
And as he’s done repeatedly since November’s election, the president reiterated the false claim that Democrats stole November’s election, even after the courts have repeatedly rejected his campaign’s lawsuits alleging fraud.
Few Republicans expect Trump will stop making his allegations even after Biden is inaugurated — though, notably, Wednesday’s violence prompted some GOP lawmakers to offer their harshest criticism yet of the sitting president.
“Lies have consequences,” said GOP Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an increasingly vocal critic of Trump’s. “The violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to to constantly stoking division.”
Some lawmakers present in the Capitol said they were shaken by what they saw as they were forced to relocate to undisclosed locations.
GOP Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, called the actions “absolutely, utterly despicable.”
“Anywhere else around the globe we would call this a coup attempt,” the congressman said during an interview on CNN. “That’s what I think it is.”
A central promise of Biden’s campaign, as he articulated often during his bid for the presidency, was he could restore a sense of normalcy to Washington after four tumultuous years of Trump.
Part of that effort, he said, was restoring a bipartisan spirit within the government, easing the tensions that have been inflamed for years and opening up the possibility of both parties working together to solve problems.
It’s a challenge that might now be more difficult than he ever imagined it would be on the campaign trail.
“The words of a president matter,” Biden said during his speech. “No matter how good or bad that president is. At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.”