It’s official: the inauguration is over, the speeches have been given, and political power in the United States has been transferred to new hands. Joe Biden, a man who first entered the national spotlight in 1972 as a young senator from Delaware, is now the 46th president of the United States.
Biden is the quintessential politician, someone who is an expert glad-hander and in many ways a creature of Washington. He knows how power is wielded, understands how to smooth the bloated egos of lawmakers, and is the one person his former boss, Barack Obama, felt comfortable taking the lead in negotiations with Republicans. Due to his long tenure in the Senate, Biden has close working relationships he can tap into – even senator Mitch McConnell, whom Democrats deplore as the grave-keeper of Democratic party priorities, has experience working with Biden on key legislative issues.
Biden will need all of those relationships and skills to succeed in what is the most difficult and demanding job in the world. He comes into the White House with problems stacked to the ceiling and very few easy solutions to be found. Over 400,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, with the death count going up every hour. The immunisation rollout is a dumpster-fire, with New York City projected to run out of the vaccine next week.
The political polarisation in America today is as bad as it has ever been in modern times and makes Obama’s battles with congressional Republicans and the Tea Party look like a picnic in comparison. While the ceremonies today were full of hope, it was only two weeks ago when the same grounds Biden was standing on were inundated by a mob of Trump supporters who took the Capitol Building and disrupted the certification of the 2020 election. That former president, Donald Trump, is now back at his estate in Florida, where he will be stewing about losing re-election for the rest of his life.
Biden’s first address as president was a solemn one fit for the moment. His message to America: better days are ahead if we can find a way to get past the division. 'We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative against liberal,' Biden said. 'If we show tolerance and humility and if we are wiling to stand in the other person’s shoes…we will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future.' Politics, he added, doesn’t need to be a war.
Politics, however, also won’t be easy – for Biden or anybody else. While Biden has extensive experience cutting deals with lawmakers of the opposing party, cutting those deals is not as easy today as it was in the 1980’s or 1990s. The Biden administration’s opening weeks will be full of executive actions that don’t require Republican ascent. A long list of executive orders will be issued in the days ahead, including one reinstating the global health unit at the White House National Security Council; mandating mask-wearing on federal property; extending a freeze on student loan debt; and protecting immigrants who entered the U.S. as children from deportation. Biden will do everything he can on his own authority to tackle the coronavirus, but there will come a time in the very near future when he will need to negotiate with Republicans on another stimulus package.
Joe Biden has promised to be a president for all Americans. That job begins today.