As Joe Biden is inaugurated today as the 46th president of the United States, he’ll faces a nation torn by deep political and social divisions, and a coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 400,000 Americans and hurt the economy.
Biden’s challenges are more daunting than those faced by any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had to lead the nation through the Great Depression.
In 2009, Biden was sworn in as vice president under President Barack Obama, and the new administration had to steady a country racked by an economic crisis. But that doesn’t compare with America today, where the coronavirus pandemic is claiming lives, tearing at the economy and leaving many Americans without jobs.
And Biden is following one of the most controversial presidents in history. The country is only two weeks removed from an insurrection, where marauders stormed the U.S. Capitol looking to do harm to lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence.
As Biden takes the reins of government, he’ll also have to deal with the vestiges of Donald Trump’s term, including a second impeachment trial in the Senate.
“My fellow Americans, the decisions we make in the next few weeks and months will determine whether we thrive in a way that benefits all Americans, or whether we stay stuck in a place where those at the top do great while economic growth for most everyone else is just a spectator sport — where America’s prospects dim, not brighten,” Biden said in unveiling his pandemic rescue plan. “They will determine whether we reassert American leadership and outcompete our competitors in the global economy or whether we watch them catch up and pass us by.”
Here are three things that Biden must tackle during the early days of his administration.
1. Get control of the pandemic.
The last year of Trump’s administration was marred by the emergence of COVID-19.
Thanks in part to Operation Warp Speed, there are now vaccines available to help bring the pandemic under control. But the distribution of the vaccines in many states has been troublesome, and more Americans are dying of COVID-19 than at any point of the pandemic.
Biden’s first job is to fix problems with the distribution of the vaccine. The sooner Americans are inoculated, the sooner the economic and employment outlook will improve.
So much of the current vaccination plan relies on state officials who aren’t qualified to run such a massive program. It would be nice to develop public-private partnerships to speed the process because since private industry is much better at supply chain management and other logistical issues.
Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan that, among other things, would provide an additional $1,400 in direct payments to most Americans, raise the minimum wage to $15, provide a $400 per-week unemployment benefit through September and produce $350 billion in state and local government aid.
The new president must also make sure that the nation is ready to respond to future pandemics, and along the way bolster the need to trust science and logic.
2. Restore the nation’s reputation around the world.
It’s difficult for American leaders to preach the virtues of the nation’s democracy when it appears so flawed to the rest of the world.
Biden must make sure America is leading the way on the issues facing the world, including the economy, climate change, trade, human rights and combating terrorism.
That means not only getting our house in order, but developing consistent policies.
Trump’s move to reevaluate some trade agreements and the details of other alliances were necessary to make sure such contracts were in the best interest of the American people. But there are other areas of foreign policy measures that Biden will have to tackle, including foreign interference in our elections and keeping a proper check on Russia.
Biden also will have to assess our lingering presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and stay vigilant in the fight against terror, both abroad and at home.
The new president also is expected to work with European allies on a unified China policy.
3. Healing a divided nation.
The most obvious and toughest challenge facing Biden is bringing together a fractured nation.
Nearly half the country didn’t vote for Biden. Worse, there’s a nasty divide between Democratic and Republican voters that’s unhealthy and counterproductive.
Biden campaigned on healing the nation, and he’ll have to use the relationships he’s developed in his more than 40 years in politics to remind folks that we have more in common than what separates us.
It won’t be easy.
Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will make it difficult for Biden to appeal to Trump voters. And if Trump becomes a martyr, the country could remain hopelessly divided for years.
In politics, a divide is not problematic when there’s an avenue for compromise.
If the promise of Biden’s presidency is realized, he’ll be able to work across party lines to break gridlock, even if it’s only for the most important issues facing the nation.
Biden has already set an example by appointing a diverse Cabinet. He must strive to show Americans that diversity is not a threat to anyone, but an asset for a great future.
Once he takes office, Biden should always look ahead and not get trapped in revisiting Trump’s fractious term.
Gromer Jeffers Jr. is a political writer for The Dallas Morning News.