William Alan Reinsch, a contributor and chairperson for America’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently wrote that “predicting a politician’s moves after a campaign is harder than predicting them during a campaign.” Time spent during a campaign is the time for “promises, and good poll data… will tell you what to say.” Once elected, it’s all about deciding “which promises to keep and which to throw back in the closet.”
While a Biden presidency certainly warrants a much-needed feeling of cautious optimism, skepticism over whether Biden will fulfill — and can actually manage to fulfill — his many promises are also not undue.
Let’s look at what we can hope to see once Biden’s term commences. The Biden team carries an ambitious day one agenda that includes assembling their own coronavirus task force, pushing for a new COVID-19 aid package, releasing a vaccine distribution plan, strengthening the Voting Rights Act to reflect proper racial equity and implementing comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for up to 11 million undocumented refugees and immigrants.
Biden’s incoming administration also promises to make up for a number of harmful policies implemented by Trump’s administration. Among those promises are striking down the transgender military ban, rejoining the World Health Organization, re-entering and abiding by the Paris Climate Accords, rescinding Trump’s executive order calling for travel bans on a number of Muslim-majority countries and more.
The next 100 days include a much broader and larger to-do list. Cutting the funding for the border wall? Passing comprehensive policing and criminal justice reform? Investing in domestic manufacturing and job creation? Implementing a $2 trillion climate plan? Repairing broken alliances and promoting democracy and human rights abroad? All can allegedly be expected to happen in the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency.
With the election secured for Biden and President Trump on his way out, many Americans from both sides of the metaphorical aisle have been able to enjoy a breath of relief, but we still have a difficult question to grapple with: will Biden’s first term live up to what we were promised, or will his plans be ultimately defeated by the legislatively dysfunctional gridlock that is Washington D.C.?
The last several years have called into question many old myths about the United States. That we are the “can-do power,” the “indispensable nation.” A stunning dysfunction in the capacity of the problem-solving mechanism of the U.S. government, which seems to be deeply ingrained into our system, and which is now bubbling to the surface of political discourse, stands in stark contrast to those ideas.
Political commentator Jon Stewart once explained in an interview that “what is broken about Washington isn’t the bureaucracy. It’s legislators’ ability to address the issues inherent in any society — and the reason they can’t address them is that when you have a duopoly, there is no incentive to work together to create something better. Plus, you have one party whose premise is that government is bad and whose goal is to prove that, which makes them, in essence, a double agent. All these things coalesce to make problem-solving the antithesis of what we’ve created.”
History and public affairs professor Julian Zelizer, a contributor for the Atlantic, wrote in 2018 that “Lawmakers have tended to act only when they had no other choice.” “It took a civil war to end slavery,” Zelizer says. He also argues that “Bankers avoided regulation until the financial system totally collapsed” in the Great Depression. So why, he asks, does America still choose to “so often play catch-up?” After the Civil War, the Great Depression, the 2008 financial crisis and most recently COVID-19, one can only wonder how many lessons it will take before our government learns to act proactively rather than reactively.
Former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote extensively on how “Biden will have to grapple with the widespread view that the United States does not have the competence to be trusted.” These global and domestic concerns (which happen to be quite well-founded) point to serious questions on whether the United States government can “conceivably regain the trust needed to lead again” under Biden.
Despite the many challenges ahead, there is still cause to look to Biden’s presidency with cautious optimism. He may not be able to fulfill all of his election promises — few presidents in U.S. history have, after all. He may even deviate from some of them. He may not be able to overcome all of the aforementioned dysfunctions and challenges within our system. He may not be able to rebuild our broken trust in the U.S. government.
Still, initiatives such as criminal justice and policing reform, climate change reform, racial justice and expanding healthcare are all extremely important, and any progress on any of these fronts is a valuable step in the right direction. At the end of the day, a step forward, however small, is better than a step backward.
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