Only a few hours remain before the swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C. of the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden, whose presidency, after the contested elections by Donald Trump and the dramatic assault on Capitol Hill, has the task of mending the rifts in the social fabric of America.
By Alessandro Gisotti
The United States is still shaken by what happened on 6 January during the assault on Capitol Hill, which resulted in the death of 5 people. It was an unprecedented event that dramatically manifested the divisions present in the American society, and which go beyond the political dimension. This polarisation has deepened in recent years, and many observers say it is not likely to disappear in the short term.
It is, therefore, no coincidence that the theme chosen by the new president, Joe Biden, for his swearing-in ceremony is “America United”. This need for national unity is widely felt across the board by Americans, many of whom are aware that only united will it be possible to face the pandemic and the serious economic crises which have ensued.
Pope Francis has always stressed the value of American unity inscribed on the nation’s coat of arms: E Pluribus Unum. On his Apostolic Journey to the US in 2015, he was the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress. On that occasion, he delivered a speech which – through figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King Jr – underscored what makes American democracy unique. From that speech five years ago to his words at the Angelus on 10 January about what happened on Capitol Hill four days earlier, Pope Francis has always encouraged people to reject disruptive tendencies, and to work with patience and courage for reconciliation and unity.
Significantly, in a message sent yesterday – Martin Luther King Day – he urged Americans to “return” to the African-American leader’s dream. The United States needs to realize that unfulfilled dream of “harmony and equality.” A dream that “always remains relevant” and indeed becomes even more urgent in a country where, despite the great economic opportunities, there remain injustices and social conflicts that have also now been exacerbated by the pandemic. This is, therefore, the time to let “us” prevail over “me”, to heal wounds and find a renewed unity based on those principles that have always sustained American democracy and made of it a protagonist on the international scene.
It is precisely the question of national reconciliation which will be the most arduous challenge, especially in the first phase of the Biden presidency. Some have observed that, starting with Vice-President Kamala Harris, never have the components of an administration been so multiracial. Besides the internal theme of “healing” the American society, there is also the external front, on which the international spotlight is focused. After years often marked by unilateral decisions or bilateral agreements, there are, in fact, great expectations for a “return” to multilateralism in foreign policy and a recovery of the relationship of trust with international organizations, starting with the UN. Some steps in this direction have already been announced in recent weeks, such as the return of the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement. This move converges with Pope Francis’ commitment in favor of the custody of our Common Home expressed in Laudato si’.
As Joe Biden prepares to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, what has happened on Capitol Hill in recent days reminds us that democracy and its institutions are precious and should not be taken for granted simply because they have existed for so long.
This awareness must not just remain an utterance but – quoting Fratelli tutti, – requires a concrete effort at all levels. It requires a commitment not only from political leaders, but from all the people, and their movements, to promote the common good and strengthen democracy. This is even more true today, in a historical period in which, despite centrifugal forces and nationalistic interests, the pandemic has dramatically shown that “no one is saved alone”.