From COVID and jobs to climate and US leadership, our broken politics could hobble Biden. Executive power and plans that help all 50 states will be key.
It is often said that being an entrepreneur is like rebuilding an airplane while it is in flight. Becoming president of the United States in January 2021 will be even harder.
When President-elect Joe Biden slips into the pilot’s seat, he will be assuming command of a plane in a storm, surrounded by other storms, one whose instrument panel shows at least five major warning lights flashing red. It will be a task even harder than the one Barack Obama and Biden inherited when they took over an economy in mid-recession. In fact, no president has faced such diverse, serious challenges since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who inherited a depression ravaged economy in a deeply divided society trying to navigate in an increasingly dangerous world.
As last week’s elections have shown, America remains profoundly divided along political, economic and social lines. Biden won more votes than any presidential candidate in our history, but President Donald Trump’s total was the second highest ever and the GOP has maintained control of the Senate and reduced the Democratic majority in the House.
Five crises for Biden’s first 100 days
The massive challenges before the new administration will require not only creativity and leadership, they will also require winning agreement on a common agenda and ensuring at least a degree of support from both red and blue America. None of them can be solved by fiat or working on behalf of only a fraction of our states. Fortunately, this is precisely the approach Biden promised, one largely absent in recent years from our politics. The future of our country will depend on his ability to live up to this test.
When Biden takes office Jan. 20, we will be in the midst of the worst public health crisis since the flu pandemic of 1918. We will face a massive economic crisis with over 11 million unemployed. We will face the existential threat of the climate crisis. We will be viewed by the world for the first time since World War II as a deeply unreliable partner whose leadership can no longer be counted upon. And we will be confronting all these crises with a fractured political system that is barely functional.
These are the five major challenges facing America and Biden. In the first 100 days of his presidency, Biden and the new Congress will have to move forward with plans every bit as bold as Roosevelt’s 100 days agenda during the Great Depression.
First, Biden must launch his science-based national plan to contain the COVID crisis. He must return science to the center of the solution, promote social distancing, mask use and tracing. And he must assist our cities and states, red and blue alike, as their resources are stretched to the limit. This also means assuring all Americans have access to affordable health care and that this crucial guarantee be protected from court action to dilute it.
Next, emergency relief must again be provided to those who have lost their jobs or been displaced by this virus. This must be a worker-oriented plan designed to preserve and create jobs, especially in hard-hit sectors — from restaurants to travel and tourism, from retail to the arts, large businesses and small. It means extending assistance for those at risk of losing their homes and providing cash support for those in greatest need.
Don’t underestimate the president-elect: Biden ran a great campaign. He’ll restore integrity and competence in a post-Trump era.
We need financing approaches that create jobs, such as an infrastructure bank to rebuild the critical infrastructure we have let decay for nearly five decades now. For an expenditure of just over $1 trillion over 10 years and the expertise a dedicated financial institution can provide, we can create jobs and stimulate economic growth in a way that attracts real bipartisan support.
Further, Biden has also committed to fund development and reward innovation in green technologies — new energy sources, electric vehicles, and broadband. Moving that forward, along with other steps to address the climate crisis, should also be a first 100 days priority.
Also essential to that development will be investing in the education and training of Americans in the technologies and skill essential to a 21st century economy. This should include another campaign promise that can win bipartisan support: Making free junior college education across the country and making life-long learning an affordable reality.
Plans that benefit all 50 states
All of these steps must be taken while dealing with the reality of our broken politics. Presenting plans that bring benefits to all 50 states will be key. But the Democrats must also be willing to use all the executive-branch tools at their disposal, as well as developing federal-state-local partnerships, to find solutions where partisan divisions are too great. This includes reforms that address institutional racism in America and restoring vitality, standards and purpose to institutions both at home and abroad. This last point is key when it comes to foreign relations. The United States must show the world that we stand by our friends, stand up to our enemies and remain committed to the rule of law internationally.
A deeply divided nation: Trump’s huge vote total breaks my heart. I recognize this America and I wish I did not.
These steps are each essential if the next administration is to meet the unprecedented demands of this moment in our history. The price tag for all of the above is about the same as the $3.6 trillion the nation has already spent on COVID relief. But importantly, much of it is investment rather than spending — taxpayer dollars that will bring returns for many years to come.
Either we step up now to meet these challenges and frame them as the work of all Americans of both parties, or we risk the further destruction of those things that have made America great, deterioration of competitive standing in the world, limits to our ability to lead, threats to our security and most importantly, further divisions in a society that is in desperate need of healing and rebirth.
David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) is host of “Deep State Radio” and CEO of the Rothkopf Group media and podcasting company. His latest book, “Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump,” came out last month. Bernnard L. Schwartz is the CEO of BLS Investments, former CEO of Loral Corp. and publisher of the Democracy journal.
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