By Shivaji Sengupta
If you can look into the seeds of time.
And say which grain will grow and which will not…
–William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Finally, the Democrats have what they want: their President in the White House. As a Democrat, I wish him well. Indeed, many, regardless of political party, may agree that Joseph R. Biden is essentially a good man, salt of the earth, who has grown up, if not poor, definitely middle class. He likes to brag that he is one of the very few presidents who does not have Ivy League credentials. He first wife and baby daughter died in a terrible car accident. His son, Beau (who along with Hunter) had survived the accident, died recently of brain cancer. These tragedies have made Joe realistic, a man of deep empathy. He has promised us to always give us the truth, especially in times of crisis. All this make for a stark contrast to the man who preceded him in the White House. With Biden, there is once again hope for business as usual. He has selected a pack of professionals, polished and seasoned at their profession.
Despite all these promising signs, there are ominous clouds on the horizon. The virus has already taken over 400,000 lives; over 25 million are infected in the United States. It has wreaked economic devastation. Two-thirds of American children cannot attend school in person resulting in massive dropout rates. One in eight adults is going hungry. Bitter divisions over racial justice have torn us apart. And the partisan rancor has poisoned America’s faith in democracy, with little signs of letting up.
Joe Biden faces at least four crises as he takes over governing the nation from Donald J. Trump. He has acknowledged them in his inaugural address on January 20th, speaking to Americans who feel perhaps more deeply divided than at any time since Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural speech in 1865. In case you think I am exaggerating, let me remind you that on January 6 this year the rebels storming the Capitol in the name of Donald Trump actually dared to fly the Confederate flag under its dome. This had never happened during the Civil War, even though Lincoln’s plea for unity was ignored.
President Biden’s signature tune is also unity. “Without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury,” he said in his speech on inauguration day. Even before that speech, he had announced a number of tasks that he intended to address, and complete in some cases, during his first One Hundred Days. It’s time to go to work on all fronts, Biden announced.
Speaking of work, The Economist’s latest issue has a humorous cover picture: Biden in front of the soiled White House, dressed in an executive suit, masked, and with a mop on his shoulder. The ethos is perfectly Biden!
But work is of two kinds: strategical efforts and political maneuverings. By effort, I mean working to reduce, and eventually eradicate, COVID-19. Environmental protection and infrastructure, and – extremely important – the return of children to schools. Political maneuverings involve all the strategical efforts involving governments. In an almost divided government, post Trump, the political aspect is just as sensitive as it was during Trump. Biden, as they say, has work to do. By his own clarion call, the first hundred days is crucial.
How is President Biden going to achieve the promise of the first hundred days? What is his attitude toward Republican resistance that threatens to impede the achievement of his objectives? According to his friend, Mitch McConnell, he is an honest, God-fearing man, always optimistic, and a believer in previously successful tried-out methods. Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, after the North had won the Civil War, appealed to Americans to get busy rebuilding the Union. “With malice toward none,” he said, “with charity for all, with firmness in the right…let us strive to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation’s wounds.” Joe Biden’s inaugural echoes those very sentiments: to heal, to build back better.
But he is not just a man of sentiments. His team of experienced appointees are more than capable of achieving the targets concerning the pandemic, the economy, children returning to schools, and the environment. The president’s vast experience in foreign affairs will enable him to deal with the tricky situations concerning China and Russia. Western Europe (including the UK) is looking on hopefully. So, there are enough hopeful conditions for Biden’s success. But for those ominous clouds.
The ominous clouds are the Republicans and the far-right. The defeated are always vengeful. The Democrats were in 2017. Unlike 2017, however, the far-right element among Republicans is much more articulate and active, even dangerous. Joe Biden’s team will have to be like a bomb squad diffusing politically charged explosive situations. One of them happened just before the swearing-in of the new president, at the Capitol. The insurrection almost severely wounded democracy.
Post-insurrection, the far-right have receded but not gone. The Republicans in both chambers of Congress are already resisting: Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief-money bill to Congress is a “non-starter;” if the Democrats end filibuster, there will be total non-cooperation; he is professing unity, but his executive orders ignore Republicans and so on.
The media is also to blame for partisan politics. Fox News, deterred by Donald Trump’s supporters who were displeased with its pretenses of objectivity during the elections and began to desert it, is trying for retribution by taking an overly critical and aggressive stance against Biden. CNN and MSNBC, in opposition to Fox, are doing the same with McConnell and the Republicans. Just this week, one of CNN’s commentators thundered, “Forget unity, unity is impossible.”
This sort of extremism will not help Joe Biden. People should remember that these are early days. The odor of the Trump regime is still heavily in the air. People react out of reflex conditions. Republicans expect Biden to disregard them. Democrats expect Republicans to be vengeful. The media is still lined up according to the last regime’s divide. I would urge be like Biden was during the interregnum between the election and the inauguration. Practice “strategic patience” by remaining dignified and quiet. We should learn from him; let him do the job as only he knows.
Let us give him the hundred days.
Shivaji Sengupta is a retired Professor of English at Boricua College, New York City. He has a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. He has been a regular contributor to The South Asian Times and to other newspapers. He is a member of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee.