With President Donald Trump’s backing, insurrectionists broke into the Capitol building to disrupt the peaceful transition of power to the incoming Biden team. Meanwhile, the country marked the highest number of COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began. Even as vaccinations have begun, the virus is continuing to spread at an alarming rate, and the United States leads the world in both infections and mortalities.
The U.S. economy, despite record highs in the stock market
is in dire straits. Unemployment is again rising. The poverty rate in the United States had its biggest increase last year since the measurement began in 1960. Nearly 20 million additional Americans faced hunger in 2020, bringing the total to well over 50 million.
The Biden administration should seize these political opportunities to advance the boldest version of its agenda. It is not the time for timidity.
Against this carnage, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won what looked like a decisive victory in the November election—they prevailed by 7 million popular votes and secured a comfortable-looking 306 electoral votes. But thanks to America’s antiquated Electoral College system, just 43,000 votes in three key states could have flipped the election back to Trump, despite his national unpopularity.
Deliver the goods
With margins so narrow, the forces that refuse to accept Trump’s loss could well prevail in the next elections if Biden and Harris can’t deliver on confronting these crises.
The incoming administration has been lining up key appointments. They’ve issued statements about tackling the pandemic. They’ve discussed executive orders to reverse at least some of the damage of the Trump years. They haven’t taken office yet, but they’re already on a roll.
And, with the victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia, the Democrats will control the Senate by the slenderest of margins. They’ll control the committees and the Senate’s agenda, and the confirmation process will be easier. The new administration will have an edge when advocating legislation that requires a simple majority, such as fiscal measures.
Infectious disease, climate change, economic inequality, racial injustice: these are the enemies that the new administration must vanquish.
Meanwhile, Republicans are facing growing divisions over their party’s embrace of right-wing extremism. The Democrats’ most resistant opposition, both in Congress and on the streets, has now been tarred with the label of “traitors.” It will be that much more difficult for this opposition to claim that it is upholding the Constitution, protecting “law and order,” or subscribing to authentically conservative values when challenging the new administration.
Status quo ante isn’t good enough
The Biden administration should seize these political opportunities to advance the boldest version of its agenda. It is not the time for timidity. The United States was not in good shape before COVID hit. Even before Donald Trump taking office in 2017, America was way behind in dealing with the climate crisis, widening economic inequality, and racial injustice.
Returning to the previous status quo—before COVID, before Trump—is just not good enough. The Biden administration must instead execute a pandemic pivot, using the current crisis to push through a long overdue transformation of a stagnant country.
First, the new administration has to get the pandemic under control by coordinating a nationwide effort to speed vaccination, institute a robust testing-and-tracing system, and provide robust assistance to all those who have suffered economically because of this disease.
Also essential is to revive global cooperation in beating back COVID. The disease will continue to wreak havoc if it isn’t eradicated everywhere. When it comes to the pandemic, Donald Trump’s antiglobalist philosophy—such as his defunding of the World Health Organization—was literally self-defeating.
Even as it deals with the acute crisis of COVID-19, the new administration has to address as well the economic and environmental emergencies that threaten to overshadow the pandemic. Biden’s agenda of a “clean energy revolution” is sensible, even visionary in parts.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
But to get it through Congress, it has to be pitched as a jobs program. Trump and the right wing have portrayed environmental legislation as antiemployment. The way around such a misreading of efforts to shrink America’s carbon footprint and promote clean energy is to reframe everything in terms of job creation.
Anyone who opposes such legislation would automatically be “anti-job,” a label that’s political suicide. And a strong jobs program could be vital for counter-radicalization efforts in regions that backed Trump.
The pandemic has led to a tragic loss of life. It has torn through the economy with gale force. But the hurricane winds can also be winds of change.
The Biden administration, to avoid becoming a caretaker transition between two far-right presidencies, must go on the offensive. Infectious disease, climate change, economic inequality, racial injustice: these are the enemies that the new administration must vanquish. Their future, and our own, depends on it.
Victory will be difficult. But it won’t go to the faint-hearted.
John Feffer directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s the author of the new book, “The Pandemic Pivot.”