New American President Joe Biden has a tough task ahead, actually a series of challenges. His main job is uniting a nation riven by racial and economic discord, apart from doing a repair job on the damage caused to the image of the country, thanks to his impulsive and megalomaniac predecessor, Donald Trump.
He first called for stabilising a country reeling from a pandemic going beyond control, with over 400,000 Americans dead, and a growing divide over truth versus lies.
The economy is another major hurdle. It keeps shedding jobs, with unemployment hitting women and minorities the hardest. And the insurrection at the Capitol made clear the extent of the risks posed by the nation’s deep political divisions and the embrace of conspiracies and lies by many followers of Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
He already got down to action. He signed several executive actions shortly after being sworn on Wednesday, undoing policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
Biden signed a document to begin the process of re-entering the Paris climate accord and issued a sweeping order tackling climate change, including revoking the presidential permit granted to the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline. Among a raft of orders addressing immigration, Biden revoked Trump’s emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a border wall and ended a travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries.
The Biden administration is proposing to Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty limiting the number of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons.
“Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we are in now,” Biden said.
Indeed, Biden, 78, is taking office at as grim a moment as many Americans can remember, and his inaugural celebration reflected that reality. There was no cheering crowd spread out before him on the National Mall when he took the oath of office as a consequence of the pandemic, but there were 25,000 National Guard troops securing the streets of Washington in response to the Capitol attack.
Historians have put the challenges Biden faces on par with, or even beyond, what confronted Abraham Lincoln when he was inaugurated in 1861 to lead a nation splintering into civil war or Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he was sworn in during the depths of the Great Depression in 1933.
But Lincoln and Roosevelt’s presidencies are also a blueprint for the ways American leaders have turned crises into opportunities, pulling people past the partisan divisions or ideological forces that can halt progress.
But by some measures, Roosevelt and Lincoln had advantages Biden does not. Roosevelt’s Democratic Party had solid majorities in Congress, helping him power through his expansive agenda. Lincoln’s Republican majorities were aided by the secessionist push that dwindled his opponents’ ranks in Congress.
Biden, meanwhile, will have the narrowest of Democratic majorities in Congress; in the 50-50 Senate, it will fall to Vice President Kamala Harris to break any ties.
Biden’s ability to get that legislation passed will significantly shape both his administration’s ability to tackle the pandemic and his overall standing in Washington. He’s staked much of the promise of his presidency on his ability to court lawmakers from across the aisle, touting his long working relationship with Republican senators and the reputation he cultivated as a dealmaker while serving as President Barack Obama’s No. 2.
The pandemic, the anti-virus vaccines’ rollout, the economy –– the list of obstacles Biden has to overcome is growing.
Yes, he is unfazed, as calm as the lull after a storm, despite the looming uncertainty about the ultimate challenge: bridging the racial gulf and setting right truth versus fiction.