If seasoned American political observers are to be believed, Joe Biden has taken oath as President at an ominous moment for the nearly quarter-millennial old republic. But listening to President Biden’s inaugural speech, one comes away more hopeful about an imminent recovery than fearful of an apocalypse in the making. Biden claimed that American had been tested and it came out stronger. But others disagree – America is still being tested, and that is a positive spin on the chaos of past four years or so.
Due to Covid-related miseries, racial tensions and hyper-partisanship, America is mired in a political and economic crisis. The situation is like Civil War and Great Depression rolled into one. Some have suggested that even Lincoln and Roosevelt would find overwhelming the combined scale of political discord and economic devastation, on top of managing ascendant, hostile foreign actors. But it is Biden’s hour now, and whether he is the right man for this critical moment in history is for posterity to judge.
What few may disagree with is that Biden’s perseverance – a trait that has kept him going through personal tragedies and political crises – ended up rewarding him the presidency. During the difficult and unconventional Covid-era election campaign as well as navigating the post-election transition troubles and controversies, he and his team hardly put a foot wrong, remaining patient about process and outcomes. Strategic patience can come in handy if Biden plots a long game to get things in order.
Now comes the test of Biden’s political acumen. It is hard to unite a country when half of the voters didn’t vote for you. But it will be so much harder to unite a country when a significant portion of the voters who didn't vote for you now believe that you did not win the election fairly. Does Biden stand a chance to change minds of those Americans who were fed lies by Trump and Co? What can break the fever of diehard Trump voters, to accept that there is now a new president in charge, and it is time to move on?
It isn’t clear what kind of a role Donald Trump will play in his post-presidency life. His impending impeachment trial, which is a political gamble for both parties, may determine his future course of action. Despite his personal flaws, self-dealing and political baggage, Trump still commands the following of tens of millions of voters. It would be hard to disregard his outside impact on Biden’s presidency. Reportedly, a number of options are on the table, including forming a new political party and setting up a TV network.
America expects a lot from its presidents, but asking Biden to wave a magic wand and get the country behind him is unrealistic. To end the current dysfunction and distrust, the onus is more on the people than on Biden to reflect on the past years and see where it all went wrong. What Biden can do is govern from the center, focus on containing Covid, and lay the foundations to create millions of new jobs in the public sector. Unity won’t come easy, but it can start coming back when most of the country is at work.