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'We've Got A Steep Road Ahead': Americans Focus On The Future

President Biden delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in as the 46th president.
Patrick Semansky
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in as the 46th president.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

As President Joe Biden took the oath of office on Jan. 20 with his history-making vice president, Kamala Harris, people across the nation seemed cautiously optimistic.

Biden and Harris take office in the wake of a violent and deadly attempt by supporters of President Donald Trump to block Congress from certifying Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. In the two weeks since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, federal law enforcement officers have made arrests and charged people from across the nation with participation in the riot.

On Wednesday, as Biden told Americans that democracy had prevailed and called for a day of renewal and resolve, people across the country talked about a return to normalcy.

"I'm happy if he can do his agenda," Kay, a 57-year-old Trump supporter told KCUR reporter Frank Morris. "I mean, he seems like he's a level-headed guy, and I hope that's the truth. I hope that that's what he follows. Cause then America would be better, but I'm worried that it's gonna swing too far left."

Kay, who lives in the suburbs of Kansas City, Mo., and declined to share her last name, said she hoped that the Biden administration would reunite Americans.

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"That's all I want. I want America first," she said. "I just want our country back to normal."

Sherry Webster, a 71-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., told Morris she thought the United States had turned a corner, but there was still a lot of work needed to bring the country together.

"We've got a steep road ahead, [a] really steep road ahead, but I think Biden through all his tragedy in his life, has gained a lot of wisdom," Webster said. "I think he's somebody that can reach out to both sides and it really speaks to people. So I think we're headed in a good direction."

Kelsey Nix watches a television airing the Inauguration Day ceremony at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta.
Jessica McGowan / Getty Images
Getty Images
Kelsey Nix watches a television airing the Inauguration Day ceremony at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta.

New York City was quiet during the inauguration Wednesday. Outside Trump Tower, where so many demonstrations have been held over the past four years, there were notably few people. One couple stopped by with their signs and hats from the first Women's March in 2017.

"It wasn't even a conscious feeling I woke up feeling energized. I feel the relief of not having to monitor second by second terrible decisions," 53-year-old Wendy Brandes told WNYC's Stephen Nessen.

Nearby, 21-year-old Diana Hernandez who works in Times Square said that during Trump's term, tourists often felt emboldened to yell anti-immigrant slurs at her. She hopes that era is over now.

"I feel better ... knowing that there's a better president and a female co-president in the White House," Hernandez said. "I have a good feeling for the future and the generation to come, because it shows that we have more opportunities for women."

Even some Trump supporters in the city said they would give Biden a chance to show what he can do to improve the country.

Reaction to the inauguration was also muted in more conservative parts of the country.

Jason Smith stood in line at a DMV in rural Southwest Idaho as Biden was sworn in. Not that he would have probably watched the new president's address anyway.

More than 60 court cases challenging the election results in swing states were thrown out because the Trump campaign couldn't provide evidence of widespread fraud, but Smith doesn't think Biden was fairly elected.

"We just want to be left alone in this country," Smith told NPR's Kirk Siegler. "Trump was our president, and for most of us, he still is our president. We still follow him."

Matt Gnojek of Denver usually wears his Capt. America outfit when he travels the country to raise money for pediatric cancer. But he was outside the Colorado State Capitol on Wednesday urging Americans to come together and believe in democracy.

"I just decided that a little more love, a little more smiles might be useful to more than just the kids, but maybe to some of the adults out there facing hardship as well," he told reporter Bente Birkeland of Colorado Public Radio.

Gnojek thinks democracy is thriving rather than failing.

"But we have to trust it. You have to trust each other," he said. "The claims of widespread voter fraud, it's a big beast to tackle. But if I had to venture a guess, I would say that the reason that they feel the way that they do about voter fraud is because their love for country, their love for each other was in fact manipulated by forces that wanted to see us divided."

Outside the state Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa., one Trump supporter seemed ready to let go of the false claims of election fraud.

"It's over. There is nothing they can do about it. It is what it is. I accept that," Ryan Stevenson of Carlisle, Pa., told WITF's Sam Dunklau. "I am not interested in finding out what the facts were, the truth was. It doesn't matter to me. It's over."

For Matt Conberry, a Biden supporter from Wallingford, Pa., moving on sounds like a good idea.

"It's a very simple message. A lot of this country thinks the election might have been stolen. Or that democracy doesn't work," he said. "You know, it's the best we got. You know what I mean? If you don't trust the results of the election, I don't know what else we will do as a country."

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Tanya Ballard Brown is an editor for NPR. She joined the organization in 2008.