WASHINGTON, Jan 20 — US President Joe Biden came in facing extraordinary challenges: A nation divided after the Donald Trump years, the Covid pandemic, and an economy in tumult.
And he promised Americans a lot: To heal the country’s democracy, defeat Covid, address deep-rooted racial and economic problems, and restore US standing around the world.
How did he do?
Biden made a strong start with a vaccines rollout that stood in contrast to the often confused policies of Trump, who tried to play down the seriousness of the pandemic, although he did oversee the rapid development of the vaccines.
Apparently lulled into a false sense of security, Biden declared July 4th a day of independence from the virus. The Delta variant struck that summer, reversing the downward trends of the spring and by the time the Omicron variant took grip in December, Biden was taking the blame.
At the start of the administration, 69 per cent of Americans approved of Biden’s Covid policies. Today that’s 46 per cent.
In conservative areas of the country, the Biden administration’s attempts at imposing vaccine mandates have provoked fierce political opposition and on Thursday the Supreme Court struck down his attempt to mandate vaccinations at large businesses.
The Biden administration credits passage of the US$1.9 trillion (RM7.8 trillion) American Rescue Plan with saving the economy from going into a downward spiral, with mass unemployment and recession.
Biden also signed into law a US$1.2 trillion infrastructure package to fix bridges, roads, internet connections and much else. This was achieved with Republican support and was something that Trump, in particular, had long promised but failed to deliver.
However, an even bigger climate and social spending package, the US$1.7 trillion Build Back Better bill, died in the Senate after Biden proved unable to persuade a stubbornly opposed Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, to vote in favour. With a majority of just one in the Senate, that meant shelving of the bill.
Stock market indexes and job growth hit records over 2021, with unemployment at a respectable 3.9 per cent. However, at the same time Biden is presiding over shockingly high inflation — a record seven percent in December’s annual figures.
For months, Biden’s economic advisors claimed inflation would be a mere blip but, like the pandemic that is behind those distorted prices, it has stuck.
Democracy and social change
A natural centrist, Biden has had difficulty satisfying the left wing of his party or the pressing demands of key voting groups, particularly African Americans.
His frequent vows to change America’s addiction to firearms and to institute reforms preventing police brutality have got little traction.
His signature voting rights reforms, designed to stop discrimination against Black people and suppression of turnout, foundered in the Senate, again because of opposition from just two Democrats. Having such a razor-thin margin in Congress puts almost any presidential ambition at risk.
On the broader issue of healing the country’s political divisions, Biden also gets a low grade — even if it’s not all his fault.
Biden promised to unite Americans in his inaugural speech, leaving behind Trump’s unprecedentedly divisive style, which included whipping up hatred against migrants, journalists and other opponents in constant mass rallies.
But with Trump’s ideology now dominating the entire Republican Party and the real estate tycoon likely to seek reelection in 2024, Biden is being drawn further to his own leftist base. Support from independents, that elusive middle ground, is dwindling.
America is back
“America is back,” the Biden administration loudly declared to the world on day one.
In many ways, that has been the case. Biden put the United States back into the Paris climate accord and back into the multinational attempt to control Iran’s nuclear capacity.
He moved quickly to reassure America’s oldest and strongest allies in Europe, Nato and across Asia that Washington stood with them as a partner — reversing Trump’s emphasis on bilateral relationships and treatment of even friends as cutthroat economic rivals.
The exit from Afghanistan ended a failed 20-year war and was something previous presidents had only talked about. However, the dangerous and often chaotic final days of the drawdown punctured the US image of professionalism, turning a moment of relief into a humiliation. — AFP