Biden has bet the house on banality. He has gambled on his personal ability to appeal to America’s ‘better angels’ and bring left and right together into a Platonic whole. It’s a nice, moral sentiment, but it implies that if we’re all reasonable and decent, we’ll quickly find that we agree with Joe — even though there are some things on which there is no agreement and over which civility is a sticking plaster. Where is the middle-ground on guns, abortion, immigration, war? Compromise is possible, yes, but the idea that Americans fundamentally concur on what being American is about has been dubious since the birth of the republic.
Trump was personally awful. He was also honest about his awfulness, which was a genuine change; he burst the bubble of American sentimentality. Biden talks change but actually this inaugural was a step back, back into that rich liberal tradition that has achieved a lot — America is better for it, no doubt — but has also created some of the conditions that put Trump in office. And the myth that Trump was the worst president ever — so bad that America can use him as a template for what not to be — is not only silly but imbues him with super-villain levels of evil genius that he doesn’t really have. It also forgets that Trump was where he was because millions of American voters liked what he was selling, though the BBC struggled to find any of them to interview on Inauguration Day.