The changing power dynamics in Washington were underscored also as Democrats took control of the Senate with the swearing in of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who won two seats in the Georgia run-off elections earlier this month.
The Senate then confirmed Biden’s first cabinet nominee, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
Earlier, just hours after Trump departed the White House for a new life as a private citizen in Florida, Biden stood on the steps of the Capitol building to declare that democracy had prevailed in America.
Just a fortnight earlier, Trump supporters who rejected the outcome of the November election stormed the Capitol in a riot that shocked the world and led to five deaths.
“This is America’s day, this is democracy’s day,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.
“We have learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile, and at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
The 46th US President urged Americans to “start afresh” and find a way to look beyond their profound political, racial and religious differences.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said.
“Let’s begin to listen to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.”
Biden called for Americans to reject “the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured”.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson: there is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit,” he said.
“And each of us has a duty and responsibility as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honour our constitution and protect our nation and to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
And he said Americans must seek to combat the “rise of political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism”.
Trump was the first outgoing president since 1869 not to attend his successor’s inauguration, although Biden said that Trump had left him a gracious personal note in the White House.
“We will be back in some form,” Trump told supporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, attended Biden’s swearing-in, alongside former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton.
Biden’s inauguration ceremony was a dramatically pared-back affair because of security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of thousands of cheering visitors from across the country, the National Mall was covered in almost 200,000 American flags.
The day ran smoothly and without any security problems, to the relief of law enforcement authorities who were embarrassed by the storming of the Capitol on January 6.
An estimated 25,000 National Guard troops had been stationed in Washington in the lead-up to the inauguration and entry to the ceremony was tightly restricted.
During his speech Biden said the US was entering “the toughest and deadliest period” of the COVID-19 pandemic but the nation could overcome the virus by working together.
“Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now,” Biden said, referring to both the health crisis and the resulting economic devastation.
“We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. And I promise you this: as the Bible says, ‘Weep, ye may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’.
“We will get through this together.”
Biden acknowledged the significance of the fact his running mate, Kamala Harris, was the first female vice-president in US history, as well as the first ever black and Asian-American vice-president.
Harris was escorted to the ceremony by Eugene Goodman, a Capitol Police officer who has been hailed as a hero for leading rioters away from the Senate chamber during the assault on the Capitol.
In the first tweet from his official presidential Twitter account, Biden said: “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face.
“That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.”
Pop star Lady Gaga performed the national anthem at the inauguration ceremony while country music singer Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace. The day ended with a huge fireworks display over the National Mall.
US power and politics
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Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.