Joe Biden will be inaugurated as America’s 46th president on January 20, after a year of turmoil. We are in the midst of the worst public health disaster in a century, with more than 300,000 dead from Covid-19 and tens of thousands more expected to succumb before mass vaccination can end the pandemic.
The turbulence has been political, too, with a presidential election in which the losing candidate refused to accept the results—and, even more ominously, his repeated attempts to overturn those results were backed by an overwhelming majority of the Republican Party’s elected officials and voters.
Clearly, Biden has his work cut out for him. He must take immediate action to get the pandemic under control and revive the economy, but unless both of the Democratic candidates in Georgia win their Senate runoff elections, that chamber will be controlled by obstructionist Republicans.
That’s why Biden’s first 100 days are critical. We asked 10 activists, analysts, and elected officials to examine what he can and should do to begin fixing the damage caused by the Trump/GOP wrecking crew. As John Nichols points out, though, we can’t effectively make repairs without accountability; a politics of “forgive and forget,” he writes, will only empower the Republican attack machine.
Tackling the pandemic, of course, will be a top priority. And while Trump has mishandled the crisis, epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves notes that our public health infrastructure has been underfunded by both Democratic and Republican administrations. We need a New Deal for Public Health, he argues, with massive investments in communities and the social services that are the first line of defense against pandemics.
All of the contributors to this special issue have mapped out various strategies to push Biden in a more progressive direction. But none is better positioned to do so than Representative Pramila Jayapal, who leads a newly strengthened Congressional Progressive Caucus. Here she lays out an ambitious yet practical agenda that calls not just for a big Covid relief package but also for protecting voting rights, constraining corporate power, expanding Medicare coverage, and investing in robust clean energy infrastructure.
On that last point, no group has been more inspirational in the fight for climate justice than the Sunrise Movement. In her contribution, Sunrise cofounder Varshini Prakash invokes the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt in advocating for an Office of Climate Mobilization to address the global existential crisis of our era.
Biden has repeatedly vowed to fight for racial justice, but Barbara Ransby writes that this fight cannot be won with “multiracial cronyism” and “cosmetic cabinet appointments.” And while many of our contributors call for an end to student debt, Astra Taylor, cofounder of the Debt Collective, goes further, demanding much broader relief to address a structural, society-wide crisis.
Nothing has exacerbated our country’s obscene inequalities quite like the pandemic, during which some 40 million Americans filed for unemployment, even as billionaires saw their net worth increase by half a trillion dollars. Nation editorial board member Zephyr Teachout and our strikes correspondent, Jane McAlevey, recommend measures that Biden can adopt whether or not Democrats gain control of the Senate. Teachout suggests regulatory changes that would reverse four decades of monopoly abuse. McAlevey argues that, while Biden can reorient the National Labor Relations Board in a more worker-friendly direction, the labor movement must find ways to counter the right’s impressive mobilization efforts in the fall elections.
Biden will have more room to maneuver on foreign policy, but as David Klion notes, he’s already stacked his team with Obama-era advisers wedded to the corrupt arms industry and implicated in our post-9/11 forever wars. The public mood, however, has shifted dramatically against military adventurism, and progressive activism is far stronger these days.
And that’s where we, the public, come in. After four years of Trumpian criminality, Waleed Shahid says, we are now in a fight not just for the soul of the Biden presidency or the Democratic Party, but also for public sentiment. Shahid reminds us that the most transformative presidents never fully embraced the social movements of their time but were forced to act because of them. If Biden is not inclined to embrace our goals, well, then, let’s go out and make him do it.