In the first speech that Joe Biden delivered as the 46th President of the United States, he said this:
“We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain.”
His repetition of the word much underlines the state of the America that Joe Biden has been left to lead. This is an America that for four years was led by a president who, among a plethora of other blunders, culminated his term by nearly igniting 200+ years of democracy into flames of extremism, lies, and sedition.
As I watched the new administration being sworn into office on Jan 20th, I was not stricken primarily by feelings of relief. Only two weeks before, I was watching CNN on my same television, cringing at the videos of insurrectionists violently forcing their way into the Capitol. The juxtaposition that lied between these two scenes caused nothing short of a complete sense of bewilderment to rush through my mind.
This sentiment of bewilderment, I’m sure, is echoed by many Americans. Stability was traded with volatility, which has now been re-replaced with stability, maybe? Despite being over a week into a new presidency, many of us are still on the edge of our seats. Joe Biden has not only been left with a literal mess to clean up, but he has also been left with an uneasy and traumatized society, one that needs to be eased back into normalcy.
So it is no wonder that Joe Biden has much to do.
Beginning with a good sign, during his first day in office the new president signed 17 executive orders with the goal, as he said, to repair, restore, heal, and build. These actions seemingly signalled the beginning of a progressive, proactive, and polished agenda; an agenda that is already lying in the starkest of contrasts with that of the former president. While the first day of Biden’s presidency was hopeful, his commitments are not absolute and he must continue to be held accountable for the promises he has made.
On the repairing front, President Biden moved to extend federal moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures on mortgages, and a pause on student loans that were enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic. While these actions work to repair some of the financial damage caused by the pandemic, Biden will still have to work harder to cushion the disproportionate financial impacts that the pandemic has created on America’s marginalized communities.
On the restoring front, President Biden fulfilled his commitment to re-enter the US in the Paris climate accords, a move that mirrors one of his biggest commitments while in office, tackling climate change. Nevertheless, dozens of accords, summits, and whatnots have been signed by countries in response to climate change yet the world is still on a destructive trajectory. Biden’s climate goals and targets are moderate, therefore, some big institutional changes and paradigm-shifting policies will need to be implemented if America is serious about solving climate change.
On the healing front, Biden immediately repealed the former president’s so-called Muslim ban and bolstered the ‘Dreamers’ program, paving a way for a path to quicker citizenship and reuniting families that have been separated for years.
And lastly, on the building front, the President signed executive orders that restored the directorate for global health security and biodefense at the National Security Council as well as implementing a mask mandate on all federal property. This signals Biden’s urge to control the pandemic and rebuild America’s response, an obvious 180-degree turn from the former administration’s pandemic response.
These executive orders are a concrete start to Biden’s presidency, however, as I said at the beginning, the President has a much more abstract problem to fix. America is traumatized and uneasy. The country has never been more ideologically divided with millions of Americans living in alternate realities of conspiracy theories and lies. The ideological dissonance between people is an urgent problem that carries dire consequences. Domestic terrorism has never been more prevalent in the US and this will only grow as people become more alienated and separated from reality. To make matters worse, this is also a problem that has no clear solution. A single presidency will not be able to solve this problem, much less crack the surface of it, it will take all of America. Average Americans must begin to build bridges between their political differences, their ideological differences, and themselves on a basis of mutual respect, understanding, and empathy.
So while Biden has much to do, America as a whole has much more to do.