BY FRANK F. ISLAM
With the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, America is closing one of the darkest and saddest chapters in its history and opening a new one filled with hope and optimism. The swearing-in of the former Vice President and Senator heralds a new dawn not just in the United States but the world as well.
The destructive nature of Trump’s presidency has been well-documented by the US and international media. To name just a few of his transgressions during the four years he has been at the White House:
• Trump reversed many of the major gains the country had made in race relations;
• actively discouraged immigration, upon which the country was built, especially from the non-European countries;
• rolled back more than a hundred environmental regulations;
• waged a nonstop war against the country’s institutions, including the press; and
• pulled the United States out of landmark global treaties and organizations, such as Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization, and largely abandoned America’s global leadership, allowing countries such as Russia and China to fill that vacuum.
Finally, on his way out of the Oval Office, Trump refused to acknowledge the results of a free and fair election that he lost decisively. Unlike his predecessors, he did not facilitate a peaceful transfer of power, even encouraging his followers to stage an insurrection. In a nutshell, he is leaving office with the country deeply divided.
While Trump was remarkably effective in dismantling American institutions and sowing chaos both at home and abroad, when it comes to tackling issues and solving problems, he has been one of the most incompetent presidents in US history.
A case in point is his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. The United States, which has the largest and most expensive healthcare infrastructure, should have tackled the virus better than most other countries. But the nation today accounts for more than a quarter of the global coronavirus cases and more than a fifth of the worldwide fatalities, even though it has only five per cent of the world population.
Despite receiving early warnings about Covid-19, Trump ignored the pandemic at the beginning and then underplayed it even after it began killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. The President worried that stock markets would tank if he took aggressive measures to tackle the virus.
Fortunately for America, the nation will have a leader who is capable of leading it out of the morass. Throughout the campaign, Biden promised voters to act as a President for the whole country, not just for his base. After his victory, the President-elect has reached out to Trump voters, saying that he will heal the divisions.
After four years of Trump’s relentless war against the government and the institutions – which he dubbed as ‘Deep State’ – it is refreshing to have as President someone who has faith in American institutions, whether it is judiciary, the legislature or the press. Unlike the so-called conservative President, Biden has great respect for traditions as well.
For the past four years, the White House has acted as an ‘accountability-free zone’. Biden has clearly told Americans that his administration would be accountable to them in every which way.
Another refreshing thing about the incoming administration is the manner in which it has gone about filling the top positions of various departments and agencies. Diversity, subject-matter expertise and competence have been the key to the nomination at every level.
The new administration’s first day initiatives are likely to include an ambitious Coronavirus recovery package and a flurry of executive orders that will reverse many of Trump’s controversial executive orders. Three such executive orders are reentering the Paris climate agreement and joining the World Health Organization and the repeal of the so-called Muslim ban.
We are also likely to see a number of Coronavirus-related policies, such as a mask mandate, expansion of COVID testing and a stay on evictions and foreclosures of people that have fallen behind in paying rent and mortgage.
The Biden administration will be tackling Covid on a war footing and the President-elect has already surrounded himself with prominent experts and scientists.
Similarly, domestic and foreign policy, and national security teams that Biden has put together are among the most experienced and talented. They are ready for the United States to, once again, assume the global leadership it held for more than a century. The country will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, rejoin the World Health Organization and a series of other international accords and treaties Trump had exited. It will also rebuild the bridge with its NATO partners. It will once again take an active role internationally, dealing with issues that are important to the future of all the countries of the world.
There is no doubt that a Biden Presidency will bring a wave of change to global politics and policies. In fact, the President-elect himself said it succinctly, “America is back – we’re at the head of the table once again.”
In his farewell speech 32 years ago, a Republican President referred to America as “a shining city on a hill,” a metaphor he had used to describe the country throughout his eight-year presidency. Ronald Reagan, who was then engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, always saw America as a force for good.
Ironically, it is that vision of America as a force for good that Trump – who came to power promising to “make America great again” – destroyed in 1,461 days. Biden, a 39-year-old Senator when Reagan entered the White House, is now ready to make America a force for good again and revive the construct of the nation as a “shining city on a hill”.
(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)
BY FRANK F. ISLAM