Washington’s changing of the guard

As Washington — and the world — prepare to welcome President-Elect Biden, expectations are sky high.

Every new president brings fresh hope and promise. But following four years of what many would regard as the most dysfunctional administration in history, the level of anticipation may be unprecedented.

We must all keep our dreams in check, though. Not only is Biden human, but the Republicans will likely lay political speed bumps at every turn. His agenda, therefore, must be focused. As well, he needs to delegate wisely and widely to his cabinet secretaries and agency heads. With so much on his plate, he cannot afford to be a micro-manager.

Accordingly, as he prepares to occupy the Oval Office, I believe he should concentrate on three over-arching challenges that transcend his party’s platform.

First, Biden must strive to heal and unite his nation.

After a torturous Trump presidency and an ugly election, American unity lies in tatters. Trump thrived on building divisions, pitting people and regions against each other. It was an intentional strategy and regrettably, he was highly successful.

Whether it was stirring political divisions in Washington; using race as a wedge issue; fighting constantly with the media; attacking migrants; belittling protesters; demeaning war heroes, or ridiculing the physically disabled, Trump was constantly on war footing. He saw enemies and conspiracies everywhere. A presidential bully like none other, the most important issue for him was always himself. ‘Trump First and Foremost’, was his real mantra.

To be sure, not all these divisions started with the 45th President. But it is undeniable that he exacerbated each one to the breaking point.

Biden must now harness his decency, empathy, and experience in stitching back together the American quilt. During the campaign, he talked about “healing the soul of the nation”. But this work will he hard and long. The imperative is to bring people together — old and young; black, Asian, Latino and white; gay and straight; rich and poor; urban and rural.

In the process, he must restore ethics in government. Trump was propelled to power in part by his chants of  “draining the Washington swamp”. Yet, conflicts of interest were his calling cards, as he replenished the swamp with a record number of law-breaking crocodiles.

Second, he must tame the Covid-19 beast.

Trump was an embarrassing failure. It was shocking to see the superpower put on blended knee by this tiny, invisible enemy. At the time of writing, there were 19,589,000 Americans infected with the virus, and over 336,899 have lost their lives. It was an incompetence of historic proportions. Imagine, a president encouraging people not to wear masks and not to social distance. And ridiculing those that did!

Biden has started well. Early in his transition, he established a new Covid-19 task force. He committed to taking counsel from the health and scientific community, and backed this up by retaining Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was constantly undermined by the Trump White House.

Following his inauguration, he needs to build on this momentum, and rally a new national effort. He must impose national standards; work closely with governors and big city mayors; partner with other world leaders and agencies; and ensure an effective and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Biden also knows that a healthy America is a prerequisite for a healthy economy.

Third, Biden must rebuild global relationships and alliances.

During the last four years, America forfeited its tag as the “leader of the free world”. In fact, Trump went out of his way to curry favour with the unfree world. He constantly played to authoritarians in Russia, Egypt, North Korea, and Turkey, while undercutting long-standing allies, including Canada. He also took a sledgehammer to global organizations, from NORAD to NATO to the WHO. He pushed isolationism and separatists’ forces like Brexit, while ignoring countless of pressing international issues.

To be sure, American foreign policy has been far from consistent; too many times, hypocrisy and a heavy hand have influenced their decisions. But it must also be said that since WWII, the US has served as the locomotive for a better, more peaceful world. Much public good can be traced to American ingenuity. Trump was more of a caboose, slowing down global progress. Biden’s challenge is to reverse this and return to a more traditional playbook.

He must renew old friendships; put dictators in their place; build a bridge to China; strengthen multilateral organizations; and fight climate change, to name a few. Again, this will be a tough and long slog, but there is no other option. Not if we want a world order that is founded on peace, civility, and progress.

In closing, much of the world is breathing a sigh of relief over Biden’s victory. But let us be realistic about what the new president can accomplish. He is facing many deep-rooted problems, and a Washington political machine that is seriously broken.

Biden also cannot do it on his own. He will require many friends and allies who must step up with support and ideas. In this regard, Justin Trudeau can be a pivotal player, considering our storied bilateral partnership. It is my hope that the Prime Minister seizes the moment and joins Biden, as he strives to renew America’s much-maligned global leadership.

The Hon. Sergio Marchi served as a Member of Parliament, Minister, and Ambassador.

Header Photo: rarrarorro iStock