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CNN Opinion contributors react to the most memorable moments of Inauguration Day. The views expressed in these commentaries are their own.

SE Cupp: Did that really just happen?

Was it all just a dream?

As I gathered my family to watch the historic swearing in of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the occasion took on a surreal feeling. There were Barack and Michelle Obama, looking like they hadn’t aged a day. And there was George W. Bush, elbowing hello to his old friends. And the Clintons, who in some ways, never seem to have left Washington DC.

SE Cupp

It was a throwback to an earlier era, an era before “American carnage.” Gone were the anger and division. No one suggested America needed to be made great again. The air of fraught anxiety had lifted. Even the US Capitol building didn’t show the scars of its insurrection just two weeks ago.

If not for the masks, and the modest number of assembled guests, it could have been a scene from a decade ago.

It was almost as if none of it really happened. Except, of course it did. The last four years have tattooed a trauma on so many Americans, and it won’t fade overnight. There’s healing to do, and Biden has a long journey ahead. But at least for an hour or so at the United States Capitol, there was finally a much-needed respite from the madness, the moment of demarcation that will forever be 2020 – nostalgia for the before, and hopefulness in the after.

SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator.

Van Jones: We just hit the biggest reset button in history

Van Jones

On Inauguration Day, we witnessed the triumph of American democracy.

This month we’ve seen two very different symbols in the Capitol. On January 6, we watched insurrectionists strut through that building with the Confederate flag.

Now here we are. Just two weeks later, Kamala Harris got sworn in as vice president – the first woman and third person of color to do so.

So, whose century is it? Does it belong to the people who are trying to recapture something they’ve lost? Or is there something new happening?

I believe it’s the latter.

Are there cracks? Absolutely. Is there division? Of course. But let’s be clear: we just hit the biggest reset button in history. After four years of horror, America just got a gigantic beauty download. And beauty matters. It heals.

Every person in a position of power knows they’re talking to a different country today than they were yesterday. And for those who spent the last four years spewing nonsense, they know they can no longer do it and get away with it. They feel constrained by what they just saw, and the fact that – from Silicon Valley to Black voters in the South – this country stuck together. We want something different.

Today we heard our President, Joe Biden, speak from the depth of his soul. There was not one part of his speech that didn’t feel like medicine. He acknowledged and honored the cry for racial justice, 400 years in the making. He reached out to young people and people who are suffering. He promised to be a President for all Americans.

Best of all: while this Inauguration is historic and full of firsts, the day has felt refreshingly normal. After surviving the past four years, boring is the new thrilling.

Van Jones, a CNN host, is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice organization

Jill Filipovic: ‘If only we are brave enough to be it’

Jill Filipovic

It was an inauguration like none in living memory. There was a big first: The first woman, first African American and first Asian American was sworn in as Vice President. And there was a stark challenge: to inaugurate a new president at a moment of profound national vulnerability, after our democracy barely survived a domestic attack and when over 400,000 Americans did not survive a deadly virus.

President Joe Biden met the challenge.

Watching the pomp of the inaugural tradition, I was struck by the new meaning carried by the same words we hear every four years. When Lady Gaga performed the Star-Spangled Banner and sang, “and our flag was still there,” my heart caught in my throat — what a thing to take for granted, that our flag would always be there; what a call to gratitude, to note that yes, even after a mob tore down the stars and stripes and tried to replace it with the banner of an authoritarian, today, our nation’s flag flies.

We did not have a peaceful transition of power. But we did transition from an administration that ruled with vindictiveness, cruelty and prejudice to one that leads with sincerity, optimism and openness. Yes, inaugurations are performances. But this one told the world that while America was bowed by the Trump administration and by attacks from his supporters, we remain, as inaugural poet Amanda Gorman put it, “A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

As Gorman read her extraordinary poem, “The Hill We Climb,” she embodied the best of America: “A skinny black girl, descended from slaves,” she said, who dreamed of being president and was on stage to inaugurate one. A young woman who understands that this nation was not made perfect, but believes we can make it better. As the relief and ceremony of today recedes and the real work begins, her final lines offer a kind of North Star to orient us as we walk out of the darkness:

There is always light.

If only we are brave enough to see it.

If only we are brave enough to be it.

Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

Scott Jennings: I’m a Republican and I’m glad for today

Scott Jennings

As a conservative Republican, I am under no illusion that I’ll be happy with most of what Joe Biden does as President. A few of his expected executive orders and appointments have already given me great concern that his calls for unity are just words to cover up an unwillingness to say no to the more fringe left elements of his base.

But as an American, I am glad for today as it showed, ultimately, that our system held. It was strained, particularly in the last few weeks by Donald Trump’s disgraceful handling of the post-election period, but we now have a new President, a new Congress and a chance, as we do every two years, to begin anew following a free and fair election.

There is relative equilibrium in Washington, with a tilt to the Democrats. Despite not controlling anything, though, Republicans do have an important role to play in guiding the country’s future. There is an urgent need for both parties to unify over two things: distributing the coronavirus vaccine to as many Americans as possible, as fast as possible, and standing against the scourge of political violence.

These are crucial matters. We can’t get back to normal life in America unless we get the vaccine to her people, and our democracy will be further imperiled if we look the other way when anyone – anyone – participates in or incites violence as a means to subverting the will of the people. We are all in this together, and that means accepting that our electoral system produces winners… and losers. It is an urgent matter for all Republicans to hear this message: we lost, but we can win again as long as we let go of the conspiracy theories that have driven too many people absolutely bonkers.

I wish President Joe Biden well and pray for his success. And I hope for a Republican Party that becomes a loyal opposition and presents itself as a viable, responsible governing alternative in the coming elections, even as it helps President Biden tackle the clear and present dangers to the American way of life.

Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor and Republican campaign adviser, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

Roxanne Jones: ‘Joy comes in the morning’

Roxanne Jones

“This is the first time in four years I’ve felt like wearing red, white and blue,” my neighbor Pat, a daughter of Kentucky, told me as we watched the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris together.

I know exactly how she felt. For so many years now, I’ve been angry at America. Ashamed of my country. Disgusted at the unrelenting hate and ignorance many of us have spread around the world.

But watching the inauguration today, I had so many reasons to be happy and full of pride for my nation. I’m proud of the record numbers of Americans who turned out to vote, despite the deadly risk of Covid-19. Proud to see Vice President Kamala Harris, our first woman and first Black Vice President.

Watching record numbers of Black Americans who when confronted with unimaginable horrors and injustice, refused to be intimidated and who instead, used their power to sway the presidential election – that makes my heart proud. Together, we even shifted the balance of power in the US Senate. We stood up, spoke up, ran for office and convinced our allies and people around the world that Black lives must matter. That equal justice must matter.

Today a majority of Americans rejected the politics of White power and insurrectionist ideas. And for the first time in four years, I’m comfortable sitting down with my White neighbor from Kentucky and singing “Amazing Grace” together with hope in our hearts for America.

“Weeping may endure in the night, but joy comes in the morning,” President Biden said, quoting from the Bible, in his inaugural speech.


Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD.

Raul A. Reyes: What made this inauguration so moving

Raul A. Reyes

Four years after his predecessor thundered about “American carnage,” President Joe Biden gave an inauguration speech that was pragmatic, thoughtful and, most of all, optimistic. He acknowledged the insurrection at the Capitol that took place just two weeks ago, the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and the deeply divided state of our nation. But he offered a welcome antidote to such crises. “Unity is the path forward,” he said, noting that “disagreement must not lead to disunion.”

Biden pledged to “fight as hard for those who did not support [him] as for those who did.” This olive branch of healing seemed especially gracious given his predecessor’s refusal to participate in the normal rituals surrounding the peaceful transfer of power.

Biden’s speech was effective because his words were from the heart. This was no small feat in this unusual, socially distanced inauguration that was equal parts somber and celebratory. Biden promised that “We will get through this together.” His call for basic decency towards one another made him look far stronger and more presidential than Donald Trump, who left office looking like a petulant child.

Even before Biden was sworn in, it was profoundly moving when Justice Sonia Sotomayor – the country’s only Latina Supreme Court Justice – administered the oath of office to Vice President Kamala Harris. Seeing these two women of color on the national stage was powerful. And Jennifer Lopez singing “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” was a welcome reminder than Latinos are indeed woven into the fabric of the United States. After four years of an administration that was so hostile to Latinos and immigrants, hearing JLo recite a few lines of the pledge of allegiance in Spanish was a joy.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.

Sarah Isgur: Biden invited Americans of faith to revisit his political party

Sarah Isgur

For decades, the Democratic Party ceded faith voters to the religious right. Pro-life Democrats in Congress were marginalized within the party – dropping from dozens in the 1990s to fewer than four today.

In 2008, President Barack Obama described “bitter” voters who “cling to guns or religion,” and “bitter clingers” became an anthem for conservative voters. In 2012, for the first time, the word “God” was nowhere to be found in the Democratic platform.

But as Christian nationalism has seized the Republican Party, Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President sought to emphasize the theme of unity – and was filled with what could almost be heard as a repeated invitation for Americans of faith to revisit his political party.

On top of the traditional invocation and benediction, Garth Brooks sang “Amazing Grace.” The National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, quoted Micah 4:4. Biden’s speech referenced God four times and faith three times. He quoted directly from the Bible in a passage about loss and mourning – “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” – a reminder to listeners that the pages of Psalm 30 are no doubt well-worn in his bible.

Not all Democrats agree that their political party should embrace religion or the religious. Pro-life Democrats are still an endangered species. And even some Trump-skeptics wonder whether the Biden administration will renew the hostility toward religious Americans – like the Little Sisters of the Poor – that some considered one of the most divisive aspects of the Obama administration.

But in his last speech as President, Donald Trump didn’t emphasize God or faith. Revealing his true priorities, some of his last acts as president included pardoning Steve Bannon, who was indicted last year for defrauding many of Trumps’ own supporters, and revoking his previous executive order that would have barred members of his administration from immediately becoming lobbyists. In addition to leaving the Republican Party fractured and divided, Trump also gave Democrats one last parting gift: the chance to win back some of America’s religious voters to their side of the aisle.

Sarah Isgur is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School.

Peniel Joseph: Biden’s hopes for America are revelatory. Now the world waits for deeds

Peniel Joseph

The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States promises a new birth of American freedom. Race proved central to Biden’s inauguration address – as it should be. He quoted President Abraham Lincoln twice and became the first president to ever acknowledge White supremacy in an inaugural address. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge,” said Biden. One that could only be met through unity and national purpose.

“This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” Biden observed. He touted his victory as not a personal one, but as a reflection of the power of American democracy. Biden acknowledged the White riot at the nation’s Capitol as a preface to words that called Americans to an aspirational citizenship – bold enough to defeat the forces of racial and political division that have threatened so many of us under the Trump administration.

Biden celebrated the historic election of Vice President Kamala Harris as proof that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. He spoke of the ongoing devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, but never lost the thread of racial justice, noting in a reference to a poem by Langston Hughes that “the dream of racial justice will be deferred no longer” and observing that the rise of “White supremacy” and racial terror would be confronted and defeated. Biden echoed the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his vow that his “whole soul” would be committed to national political unity.

Such unity must be based on listening to one another, respecting political disagreement, rejecting conspiracy theories and the spread of lies and false narratives that have undermined democracy.

The President’s stirring introduction of his personal and political hopes for the nation centered empathy, respect and understanding in a speech that placed the struggle for racial justice as the beating heart of America’s wounded democracy. The President’s words proved revelatory and compassionate. Now the nation awaits deeds to make those hopes real.

Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently, “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.”

David Gergen: Biden’s strong interior can right the ship

David Gergen

In recent years, four different presidents — George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have issued inspirational calls for national unity in their first inaugural address. As John Harris pointed out in Politico this week, each has fallen short of success.

Perhaps in the flow of relief as Joe Biden took the reins today, I am in a bit of a swoon. But I came away from his inaugural address thinking we may finally have a president who can pull us back from the brink. There is something about the man that is compelling — the fire in his soul, his humility, his clear moral purpose.

Most political leaders develop a strong exterior. Biden is one of the few who has cultivated a strong interior.

Biden recognizes that words alone will not bring healing. To win over the millions who have been poisoned to believe he is illegitimate, he and his team will have to bring concrete results — taming the pandemic, reinvigorating the economy and the like. And in order to get those results, he will need some political support from Republicans. So the path ahead is steep.

Still, Biden has seemingly emerged as the best possible leader for these perilous times. Chancellor Bismarck once said, “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.” Maybe we are blessed once again.

David Gergen has been a White House adviser to four presidents of both parties and is a senior political analyst at CNN. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-founded its Center for Public Leadership.

Nicole Hemmer: From a bleak backdrop, Biden spun out threads of hope

Nicole Hemmer

The backdrop could not have seemed bleaker: the event ringed by the National Guard, the crowd shrunk by the Covid-19 pandemic, the echoes of the insurrection still vibrating through the Capitol. And yet, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris could not have been a more hopeful event.

Rooted in the tragedy and destruction of the past several years, Biden’s inaugural address did not shy away from naming the challenges facing the US – what he called “a time of testing.” hHe talked about the threat of political extremism and domestic terrorism, of White supremacy and climate change, of the unchecked pandemic.

But in his inaugural, Biden found the thread of hope. He found it on the stage, where the first Black, first Asian and first woman vice president had just been sworn in by the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. He found it in the nation’s history: in the need for racial justice, in women’s fight for the vote. And he found it in hard truths: that “democracy is fragile,” and that if we turn toward decency, unity and healing, we will be able to say that “democracy and hope, truth and justice did not die on our watch but thrived.” It is more a wish than a guarantee, a reminder that democracy must be fought for every day, that it is inherently fragile. But seeing a president commit his administration to that core work is reason to believe that American carnage can be transformed into something different – even, perhaps, a period of democratic renewal.

Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.” She co-hosts the history podcast “Past Present” and “This Day in Esoteric Political History.”

Julian Zelizer: This was the opposite of the American Carnage speech

Julian Zelizer

During his inaugural address, President Joe Biden defined his agenda as an effort to preserve, protect and strengthen the foundation of our political system. “This is democracy’s day,” the President said. For Biden, this day is about the “cause of democracy.” He vowed to be a president for “all Americans.”

The most important element of his promise came down to unity. President Biden promised that he would listen to everyone and that, even when people disagreed, it was necessary to have conversations. That is how democracy works. The inaugural address followed through on the major themes that have defined his entire run for office. He wants to tell a story of unity and not division.

“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path,” Biden said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”

To achieve this goal, the President faces an awesome task ahead. He will have to contend with a radicalized Republican Party that will have little interest in negotiation, let alone compromise. As he saw on January 6, and during the Obama years, the modern Republican Party has shifted far to the right and most leaders are not willing to break from the party line. They have engaged in a level of toxic, smashmouth partisanship that renders Biden’s style of governing difficult to achieve.

He also must preside in a media ecosystem that has created too much room for sensationalism, partisan journalism and falsehood. In a world of fragmented and uncontrolled information, it won’t be easy getting out his message. The space that we depend on to obtain our facts about politics does not unite us; it stokes division.

Can a president transform the basic institutional dynamics of American politics? The odds are low. But at least, unlike his predecessor, this President wants to give it a try. This was the opposite of his predecessor’s American Carnage speech. After the horrific events of January 6, this should be welcome relief to all Americans who want to get us to a better place.

Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer.

Frida Ghitis: America’s recent trials only strengthened Biden’s message

Frida Ghitis

President Joe Biden – those very words sound soothing to me– is now in office after the longest four years in Americans’ living memory. In this unique match of man and moment, the American people finally have reason to hope. Biden’s inaugural speech and the entire ceremony embodied a welcomed promise of truth, kindness, decency, competence and selflessness that was so painfully absent from the outgoing administration’s White House.

From the arrival of leaders of both parties, to the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris, to the resplendent only-in-America diversity on stage, to Biden’s speech beseeching the country to come together, the inauguration of the 46th President was a balm for a wounded nation. The one who chose to stay away was not missed.

Biden’s speech was down to Earth, genuine. It wasn’t flowery or pretentious; it was sincere and moving. “This is democracy’s day,” he declared, and who could disagree after the country managed to survive a coup attempt in that same building exactly two weeks before? This, after the outgoing president tried to overturn the result of a democratic election.

America’s recent trials only strengthened Biden’s message. He knows the truth. He understands that after four years of acrimony and lies, his earnest call for unity can sound naïve. “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days,” he said. “I know that the forces that divide us are deep and they are real.” But his faith in the country is strong and, he hopes, contagious.

The whole world was watching. One of my acquaintances on Twitter from Saudi Arabia gushed, “the greatest nation on earth is back.”

Can he persuade Americans as well? Biden proved that it’s possible to be uplifting and optimistic without lying – without holding back harsh realities. Despite this “winter of peril,” as he called it, it’s hard to avoid the sense that because of this match of man and moment, America is now in pretty good hands. The present is cloudy, but the future does look brighter, at least for today.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis.

Lanhee J. Chen: Biden’s call to end ‘uncivil war’ was what the nation needed

Lanhee J. Chen

America needed this day. The pomp and circumstance of the inaugural proceedings reminds us that despite a deadly pandemic, racial strife, political disagreement and a deadly mob whose goal was to prevent inauguration from happening, we can still come together to celebrate and honor the peaceful transition of power in our democracy. Today was a celebration of our national story. It wasn’t a celebration that sought to cover over all the problems we face as a country, or one that ignored the painful days we’ve been through. But it was an occasion for us to take a collective breath as a nation and look ahead toward what we all hope are better days to come.

Joe Biden gave a unifying speech that I will remember for his call to “end this uncivil war” that threatens to tear our country apart. If our new president is able to do as he says and restore even some respect to the very real debates we are sure to have with one another, he will have been a success.

I will not agree with many of the policies that Joe Biden will embrace as president. But, as he noted, this disagreement does not have to make us disagreeable. Indeed, I pray earnestly that President Biden will be able to achieve what he promised to do in his inaugural address: to bring us together, lead us out of this dim chapter in our nation’s history, and to be a president for all Americans.

Lanhee J. Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution and Director of Domestic Policy Studies in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University. He served as policy director to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and senior adviser to Marco Rubio’s campaign in 2016.

Paul Begala: With Biden, we can dare to dream of a united America

Paul Begala

A faithful Catholic, Joe Biden began his day by going to mass with congressional leaders from both parties. Today is the Second Wednesday of Ordinary Time in the church’s liturgical calendar. This means we are past the Christmas season, and not yet approaching Easter. But most Americans, no doubt, are hoping that we are in fact entering, if not ordinary time, perhaps a less tragic, less turbulent, less trying time.

President Joseph Biden is the embodiment of Ernest Hemingway’s maxim that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” He has buried a wife and an infant daughter, then an adult son. He has come back from two failed presidential campaigns, and humiliating defeats early on in the 2020 caucuses and primaries. And he is stronger at the broken places. Another son of Scranton, the late Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, Sr., who had known his share of setbacks, used to tell me, “the view from the canvas is highly educational.” And Biden got a Ph.D. on the canvas.

In her remarkable speech to the Democratic convention last summer, Dr. Jill Biden told us how being tempered by tragedy prepared her husband for the terrible challenges of our time: “How do you make a broken family whole?” she asked. “The same way you make a nation whole: with love and understanding, and with small acts of kindness, with bravery, with unwavering truth.”

All of those qualities – love and understanding, kindness, bravery and unwavering truth – were present in Bident’s magnificent, magnanimous inaugural address. Speaking with energy, conviction and optimism, Biden made a powerful case for unity, pledging, “My whole soul is in this.”

I believe him. And with Biden’s battle-scarred soul in this, I think the rest of us can dare to dream of a reunited States of America. That would truly make the Biden era an extraordinary time.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House.

Tara Setmayer: The work to repair America begins today

Tara Setmayer

What a difference four years can make.

I, like many Americans and allies around the world, breathed a sigh of relief on this historic day as the country turned the page on the era of Trump’s “American carnage” to begin a new chapter in the American story. As newly sworn in President Biden reiterated in his inauguration speech, it’s a story of “hope, not fear, of unity not division, of light not darkness.”

Biden, at his best a unifier, struck all the right notes as he acknowledged the challenges we face as a country, but also reminded us of the resilience not only of the American people, but also of our democracy itself. He rightly called out the ills of racial injustice, public indecency and untruths and vowed that such forces of darkness would not prevail. Biden reminded us that positive change is possible as he acknowledged the powerful impact of Kamala Harris’ role as the first woman Vice President. This is a moment every American should be incredibly proud of, regardless of what side of the aisle you stand on.

The Biden administration is faced with much to repair, but it’s the responsibility of we the people to preserve and protect our fragile democracy. It may have triumphed this time, but it’s up to us to keep it. That work begins anew today.

Tara Setmayer is a former GOP communications director, host of the “Honestly Speaking with Tara” podcast and a CNN political contributor. She is a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project.

John Avlon: President Biden’s defense of democracy in America

John Avlon

Standing in front of the Capitol building which was attacked by insurrectionists two weeks ago, President Joe Biden offered a defiant defense of democracy and American unity in a time of division.

“This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve,” Biden declared in a clear vigorous voice. It was an inaugural address that was a lifetime in the making but tailored to the massive challenges of our time.

“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new,” Biden said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.” These conflicts between good and evil have taken different forms in different ages, but America has always ultimately forged a more perfect union by listening to the better angels of our nature.

Armed with “history, faith and reason,” he promised to lead by example toward the “the way of unity…the most elusive of all things in a democracy.” He repeated his signature campaign pledge to be “a president for all Americans,” cautioning that “disagreement must not lead to disunion.”

Like all great inaugurals, it was an optimistic speech rooted in the new President’s values. Biden spoke as a middle-class man of faith, armed with a half century of experience in government, animated by the belief that America can be both great and good. Declaring that we will “defend the truth and defeat the lies,” Biden sought to summon the civic and spiritual force of the United States toward the intense array of challenges we face: from disinformation proliferation to the persistence of White supremacy (which gained its first mention in an inaugural address) to the pandemic which has already killed more than 400,000 Americans and still rages. In this “winter of peril and significant possibilities,” Biden promised no quick fixes but instead the power of steady and honest leadership, committed to the common good.

For a country and a Capitol that just endured the most serious domestic attack on our democracy in generations, Biden’s inaugural was met with an almost palpable sense of bipartisan relief by most elected officials in Washington. We now move forward into a new day, together - not naïve about the challenges we face but newly rededicated to the proposition that all Americans are created equal, knowing that our democracy endures and presidential leadership matters. Now the real work of healing – and governing – begins.

John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst.