The barricades and fences erected around the Capitol Hill building where he was sworn in seemed to reflect the state of the nation – deeply divided and in urgent need of repair and healing.
As an experienced politician, Biden knows, that with only a nominal majority in the Senate, he must steer American politics to a more bi-partisan path. At one level, the support of Republicans will be critical towards fulfilling his agenda. At another and larger level, it will go a long way to paper over the fractious cracks in the polity.
Biden’s rousing speech which promised renewal, hope and the triumph “not of a candidate but a cause” ticked all the boxes, even if the relatively muted ceremony was a reminder that it took place in a “winter of peril”, under the shadow of Covid-19 and the departure of the contentious former President Donald Trump. As he promised, Biden got to work at once, signing a series of executive orders, some of them explicitly promised in the campaign. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, stating he concurred with the agreement in full. He tore up Trump’s ill-considered and controversial ban that blocked travel from several Muslim and predominantly African countries. And he halted construction of Trump’s border wall with Mexico.
These and other orders on issues such as the environment and immigration demonstrate that Biden is not going to fight shy of reversing what he and others regard as Trump’s malign decisions.
Such a forceful pushback demonstrates welcome resolve, but it is worth keeping in mind that such decisions, as it were, are the easy part of correcting course. The big issues before him, at least those that will need his immediate attention, are tackling the coronavirus pandemic and helping the economy, which is showing some signs of revival, back on its feet. Trump has been accused of and perceived as failing on the first count, so it is important that Biden do something to contain the spread and check the runaway deaths. As far as the economy goes, it has been one of the few bright spots of the Trump presidency, and Biden will be under pressure to keep America economically strong and growing.
On the foreign policy front, first appearances suggest there will not be a dramatic reversal. To India’s possible relief, a couple of key appoints suggest that a Biden administration will continue to look at China as the main strategic rival. New Delhi is more than aware that U.S.-India ties have improved dramatically over the past few years due to the deteriorating relationship with China. The appointment of an official to oversee the Indo-Pacific region suggests that the U.S. commitment to Quad – the strategic collaboration between the U.S., India, Japan and Australia that is designed to act as a check on Beijing – will not diminish. There is also the hope of a revival of the Iranian nuclear deal, a development that will allow India to import oil from the blockaded country and push harder to develop Chabahar and related infrastructure projects. At another level, H1B and Green Card hopefuls will be awaiting some relief, though how far Biden will go on this front will depend on employment levels and the state of the economy.
All things said and done, the Biden-Harris team has a tremendous opportunity. It is an advantage of sorts to take charge at a time when the outlook is bleak and the optimism is low. It is a time to show that real achievements can be made, that the bitterness and the failures of the past can be put behind, and that a sense of decency and justice can be restored. The world will be looking at this team to do this.