President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on the theme of “restoring the soul of America,” of “healing” the nation. However, the partisan divide in the country is so wide and deep that healing at the present moment is unrealistic. “Calming” is a more pragmatic goal. Biden has begun by turning down the temperature of discussion. As is written in Ecclesiastes 10:4, “Calmness can lay great offenses to rest.”
A man of basic decency, Biden has promised to govern not as a Democrat but as an American. Words count, and Biden says the right things, but perhaps even more important is shepherding a government that works as a unit rather than as a dysfunctional organization with warring parts. Stress relationships that unite us – family, faith (he is a devout Christian), and the social life of neighborhoods and communities — attempt to rebuild what we normally think of as the presidential character of our highest political office.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take office in January facing more crises than any incoming administration since that of Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression: a pandemic, a broken foreign policy, economic decline, crises in racial justice, climate change and a sitting president who is refusing to cooperate in the transfer of power.
Among dozens of significant issues, Mr. Biden must swiftly address five in particular. The top priority must be mounting a response to the third wave of the COVID-19 tsunami. Thus far we have witnessed the greatest failure in leadership since our nation’s wars in Vietnam and Iraq. It has unmasked the vulnerability of democracy in America.
Biden is off to a good start in naming a 13-member task force of scientifically minded former government health officials and major figures in medicine to recommend specific steps to be taken. It’s likely that he will ask all state governors to make obligatory the wearing of masks in public. Although a national lockdown is highly unlikely, announcements from the Center of Disease Control – and not the Department of Health and Human Services – will reflect a national strategy as to when restaurants, schools and businesses may remain open or closed. Planning for coronavirus vaccine allocation in the country is already underway.
Intertwined with public health is a close second issue, economic health. Millions are unemployed as the troubled economy plods along. Despite Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s assurances that “we’re recovering,” it’s to a different economy, one in which the use of technology and telework is increasing, causing disruption in the short run and placing a disproportionate burden on lower-paid workers in retail establishments and restaurants. Millions are suffering; long free food lines are visual evidence. A fiscal stimulus bill is an immediate priority as small businesses face permanent closure and jobless workers cope without unemployment benefits.
Biden is proposing infrastructure programs to overhaul roads and bridges, and, in the interest of equity, reform of President Trump’s corporate tax cuts in a manner that Americans making less than $400,000 per year would not pay more in taxes.
Addressing systemic racism undoubtedly will be a central pillar of the Biden-Harris administration. The winds of white supremacy still blow, carrying seeds of racism and xenophobia that like cancerous cells must somehow be excised. There is evidence that progress is being made. A Pew Research Center survey finds that a significant majority of the country believes that the country should “continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with whites.”
Last, it is evident the world over that America’s image has deteriorated sharply. Even among our closest allies, such as the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Canada, our favorability rating ranges no higher than 33-41 percent. To regain their trust will be one of Mr. Biden’s challenges. One place to begin is to reaffirm our ties with NATO and the European Union; nourishing their democratic institutions serves our national interest as well as theirs.
There are boiling points in the world that require a reorientation of our recent affinity for the cruel regimes of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Regarding China, at one and the same time our partner, competitor and rival, a consulting approach with our European allies is much preferable to the unilateral path the current administration prefers.
None of the tasks facing the new administration in January will be easy to resolve. The fact that here at home we now live in parallel universes — one real, one fictional — nearly guarantees that the immediate outlook is for more gridlock on Capitol Hill. Open ears and softer voices are vital. And if Joe Biden turns out to be as boring as his critics say, perhaps that is just the calming effect the nation needs in order to begin healing.
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Contact him at email@example.com.