Biden’s Challenge

Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States. He faces a challenge that can hardly be overstated. 

Image of Joe Biden via Creative Commons. “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Of course, Biden has said so himself. In his acceptance speech during the Democratic National Convention, Biden said the United States faces “four historic crises.” These crises are the global COVID-19 pandemic that continues to worsen in the United States; an economy shaken by the pandemic; climate change; and continuing racial injustice underlined by police killings of Black Americans. 

Addressing these crises with the country’s people and political leadership on the same page would be tough enough. But of course, the United States is deeply divided. Biden faces the possibility that progressive policies will be struck down by a Supreme Court that has a 6-3 conservative majority following the effective steal of a Court seat by the GOP completed by the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in October. And whether progressive legislation will make its way through Congress to Biden’s desk at all depends in part on whether Democrats retake the Senate. Senate control, in turn, will come down to runoff elections in Georgia. 

Further, Trumpism as a political force remains strong. At the moment, the popular vote tally shows that nearly 74 million Americans voted for Trump; Biden’s popular vote advantage, while not insignificant, is not the powerful refutation of the far-right that progressives hoped for. And it is difficult at first glance to see how progressives can further erode far-right support because of the U.S.’ deep polarization that falls along a rural-urban divide and is exacerbated both by social media and lack of trust in traditional news media.

Biden himself has limited means to address this division and hostility among Americans. After all, Barack Obama did everything he could in the name of unity during his time in office and got the Tea Party and birtherism in return. Biden will have greater success avoiding demonization by the right solely because of the color of his skin; nevertheless, Republican leaders will do what they can to hurt Biden. Surely it would be wrong for Biden to compromise his agenda and moderate his policies in search of an elusive bipartisanship. Instead, he should continue appealing to common values and speaking a common language in his public messaging. Biden doesn’t have to act like a unifier because that is what he is; he just can’t assume that the GOP will follow suit. If there is going to be a political thaw, it will come from small-scale grassroots initiatives rather than from Biden’s efforts alone. 

Despite the division, Biden must act in response to the crises we face. Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, achieving a just economic recovery, taking climate action, and realizing racial justice are necessary. We have to hope that enacting meaningful change leads to greater public support for the Biden administration. 

There is also a larger challenge that transcends Joe Biden and this election. It is the challenge of moving from a society that almost exclusively values economic growth to one that focuses on the wellbeing of all people and the ecosystems that we are inextricably a part of [Note 1]. This project is beyond the scope of political leaders, although it is by no means apart from electoral politics.

Perhaps this challenge—our challenge—can provide clarity and focus in this political moment.

[1] In discussing this challenge, I am indebted to the framework of ‘The Great Turning’ as discussed by David Korten and Joanna Macy.

One thought on “Biden’s Challenge

  1. I don’t think anyone on the right is going to moderate their views either. They would not think it was right anymore than you think it would be right for Biden to moderate his views. Biden is already generally considered a moderate who is willing to compromise and work with people with different views. He has in the past but he us surrounded by those not willing to do so, snd they condemn those who do. Looks like more of the same until for the foreseeable future.

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