Local leaders and community members have congratulated — and some have celebrated — the newly sworn-in President of the United States, Joe Biden.
Wednesday’s Inauguration Day was historic on several accounts as the nation welcomed Kamala Harris — the first female, Black and South Asian vice president — and the changing of political parties. The fanfare took place without crowds due to the pandemic and in the absence of outgoing President Donald Trump.
District 17 U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who challenged the election results from a handful of battleground states and once called to postpone the vote to certify Biden as president, congratulated Biden and Harris on Twitter on Wednesday. He also said he will keep working for constitutional freedoms and promoting “the interests of American families.”
“Let us begin this new chapter with optimism and courage, remembering our history and looking forward to the prodigious possibilities the future may bring,” his statement reads.
Brazos County Republican Party chair David Hilburn joined in congratulating Biden and Harris in a Wednesday interview with The Eagle.
“In the end, we’re all Americans, and we all want the best for America,” he said. “Where we differ is how we make the best for America.”
Hilburn said he feels like a lot of progress was made throughout the past four years under Trump and that one concern is that the new administration will “change the strides forward that we’ve made in the last four years policy-wise.”
But he also said that since federal law affects the local area differently than state and city policy, it “remains to be seen” how and to what degree Biden’s changes will have an impact on the community.
Hilburn said he is a traditionalist who is personally disappointed that Trump did not attend the inauguration, noting that he believes attending is an important symbol of the transfer of power.
“As much as I would have liked him to have been there, based on what has happened over the past two months, maybe it’s a good thing that he wasn’t,” Hilburn said. “He’s a distraction for 30 seconds while we’re discussing him not being there, but had he been there, the cameras would have been on him, the focus would have drifted to him at times. For President Biden and Vice President Harris, this is their day, this is their big coming in, and they shouldn’t be overshadowed by the outgoing president. And in the end, it wasn’t.”
Looking ahead at the next four years, Brazos County Democratic Party chair Wanda J. Watson said she is “extremely optimistic” about Biden taking the reins as president. She added that she’s happy there won’t be a major learning curve due to Biden’s past political experience.
“Given the current climate that we’ve been in and what’s been happening, I really do believe that he is the man for the moment,” she said. “I think that he brings character, a sense of empathy, a sense of caring and a depth of field that is sorely needed.”
Watson said she hopes people can heal from “all that has happened” since the Capitol insurrection earlier this month.
Trump’s absence from the inauguration was in a way a “nonfactor” to Watson, since the inauguration and swearing in ended up moving forward.
A&M communication associate professor Jennifer Mercieca said Trump deciding not to attend the ceremony is not surprising. Mercieca is an expert on presidential rhetoric and author of the book Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump. Even so, she added that it is a “rupture” in tradition that signals that this was not a peaceful transition of power.
Mercieca noted that there were other Republican leaders in attendance, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Mitch McConnell, which showed continuity.
“It’s very consistent with how [Trump] has acted throughout his presidency, and of course, throughout his life, which is to say that he never admits defeat — he is defiant,” she explained. “He will never apologize, he will never agree that he has lost. So of course, attending the inauguration today would have been a sign that he was in fact a loser, and that’s not something that he would want to acknowledge.”
A&M professor Kirby Goidel said Inauguration Day went smoothly, especially considering the “turmoil” leading up to the event. Goidel is the former director of the Texas A&M Public Policy Research Institute.
“When we talk about democracy, we talk about elections, but elections matter because they allow for one party to replace another party,” Goidel said. “And this is what makes democracy — it’s the peaceful transfer of power from a ruling party to an opposition party. And that happened today, so that is something we should all celebrate.”
Watson, who wore pearls in honor of Harris during Biden’s inauguration speech, said she is excited for the “momentous” and historic event of Harris taking office. Harris is known for her signature pearls and Converse shoes.
The same goes for co-founder of Black Lives Matter B/CS Ebony Peterson, who this past weekend organized the “Pearls and Chucks for Harris” photo shoot with social justice photographer Belinda Brewer. Other community members in attendance included members of Peterson’s family and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Celina Vasquez.
Peterson said she had planned to go to Washington, D.C., for Inauguration Day but changed her plans to be local in light of the recent riot at the Capitol.
“We just wanted to honor [Harris],” Peterson said. “She is a woman. She has definitely broken barriers. And she’s a Black woman. That just speaks volumes for us.”
Brewer said she was glad to photograph women in the community wearing their pearls and Converse in celebration of Harris because as a photographer she wants to document historic events and leave a legacy.
And on a personal level, Brewer said it is overwhelming and powerful to see a fellow Black woman representing the country for the first time.
“Today, after four years of feeling like I was drowning, I feel like this is a rebirth,” Brewer said, explaining that Trump’s time as president was traumatic to her and caused her to lose hope. “I don’t feel like this is a cure all, but I do believe we are on a new road of new beginnings. That’s what the inauguration means to me today — new beginnings, new birth, resurrected.”