Joe Biden is the right person to address the issues faced by a profoundly divided nation, writes DW's Ines Pohl. But are the challenges too big for the new US president?
The images of January 6, 2021, are a chilling testimony of the state in which the US finds itself four years after Donald Trump became president. They will become part of the collective memory and not only in the US: The world will not forget the day when Trump supporters, fueled with hatred and conspiracy theories, stormed the Capitol, the heart of US democracy.
Exactly two weeks later, a new president has been sworn in. Despite all his attempts and lies, Trump was not able to prevent this. That's the good news. We should all breathe a sigh of relief.
Though Trump is no longer president, Trumpism is by no means over. The US has not been this divided since the Civil War, which ended over 150 years ago. The country's two main political camps seem irreconcilable, whether in Congress or in people's homes. Tens of millions of Trump supporters continue to be trapped in the web of lies he has spun.
Trump also leaves a disastrous foreign policy legacy after four unilateralist years. Alienated longtime allies of the US are distraught, while authoritarian leaders in Russia and China, for instance, surely rubbed their hands in glee when they saw what was happening on January 6.
Biden has inherited chaos and a brutal economic system. He is moving into a White House where nothing is in order. For weeks, no one was been running the show in the US — an economic and nuclear superpower. This was dangerous. Not only for the US but also for the international community — a vacuum is easily filled.
On the upside, never has a new president had as much political experience as Biden. He has been in the business for nearly 50 years, gaining a reputation for compromise and reconciliation with political foes. After a long career in the Senate, he served eight years as vice president under Barack Obama. He knows the challenges he faces. But he is confident.
In his inaugural speech, he presented himself as a professional reconciler and emphasized the themes of unity and recovery. He spoke those words behind a thick security barrier that kept away the crowds who would normally have been on hand to celebrate the democratic transition of power.
The US's international allies can be assured that they again have a partner in the White House. A multilateralist who understands that United States cannot go it alone in a globalized world, he believes in international alliances such as NATO.
There is no doubt that Biden is the right man for the moment. He has selected a team of experienced specialists. Biden will seek compromise with the Republicans to drive through his COVID-19 stimulus package and start addressing the damage caused by the pandemic. He may be able to avert the worst.
The big challenge will be how to guide the country toward a new normalcy after an initial period of crisis management. What can the Biden administration propose to those who feel abandoned by the political establishment? What programs can it launch to address the widening social divide and growing economic inequalities? What will it do to ensure that police do not discriminate against people on the basis of their skin color?
Biden will be a president of transition. He has made this clear from the start. But words alone will not suffice. Action is needed if the people of this country are to come together for the future. The US needs to redefine its image — its idea of itself. It needs to ask itself what society should look like. What does it mean to be "American"? Will the US continue to welcome future immigrants? And what role should the US play in the international arena?
President Biden cannot answer all of these questions. He has neither the power nor the energy to develop a vision for the near future, let alone the distant future.
This article has been adapted from German.