Amidst speculations of unrest created by Trump supporters and worries of domestic terrorism, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021 in what, in the end, turned out to be a smooth transition of power in the latest presidential elections in the country. In his inaugural speech, President Biden spoke of how democracy had prevailed and made an impassioned call for unity in a deeply divided society, asking all Americans to stand up against extreme and intolerant beliefs and choose to build bridges instead—not only between different communities, but between groups with opposing beliefs as well.
For proponents of liberal democracy and rational thought, not just in the US but across the world, it was a relief to see the end of Donald Trump's controversial term and the right-wing and prejudiced rhetoric that regularly came out of the White House during this period, as well as the continued and dangerous denial of science and reason in the name of "free speech." Many have already spoken of how the Biden presidency heralds the beginning of a new era of liberal democracy that will be more representative of ordinary Americans. While that remains to be seen, the fact that the new US vice-president is, for the first time, a woman and a person of colour, is a symbol of hope for women and minorities all over the world (although it also begs the question: why did we have to wait till 2021 to see such "radical" change in the US?). The new president's immediate actions, which involved removing Trump's infamous Muslim ban and bringing the US back into the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as his strong denunciation of white supremacy during his inaugural speech, all point towards US democracy taking a more hopeful, inclusive and liberal turn.
The fact that we witnessed a peaceful democratic transition, despite Trump's best efforts to delegitimise election results, is also a clear marker of the functional democracy that exists in the US—an example that we should all take heed of. However, the deep-rooted polarisation of US society and the rise of domestic extremism, including anti-immigration and anti-minority sentiments, cannot be ignored. A Pandora's box of racist hatred and intolerance has been opened in the US, and Biden will have to keep his pledges to his minority voters (which include a large Bangladeshi diaspora) and ensure that their rights are protected under his watch. While there is reason to be hopeful, there is also much reason to be cautious, and President Biden's ability to reunite this deeply divided nation will ultimately be the litmus test of his presidency.