The most defining — and rejuvenating — characteristic of the new commander-in-chief is his extraordinary empathy. That’s because the 46th president really does feel your and our collective pain as a country — no gimmicks or shrills attached. And no longer governing America is the calamitous theater of absurd.
Such empathy was on full display last night as President Biden, Vice President Harris, the First Lady, and Second Gentleman commemorated the over 500,000 Americans lost to the pandemic. The compassionate liberalism of Joe Biden is commendable.
But even as the latest wave of the pandemic de-escalates, Covid fatalities pile up and new variants emerge uncontrolled. Biden’s genuine tenderness and call for personal responsibility aren’t enough. We’re speeding toward the greatest humanitarian conflagration in United States history. This past year of public health insecurity will soon have killed more Americans than either the Civil War or the Second World War.
Meanwhile, instead of embracing the first installment of public health infrastructure in the American Rescue Plan, Republicans are obstructing Biden’s most diverse Cabinet nominations, with a little help from Democrat Joe Manchin, the senior Senator from West Virginia. He is opposing Indian American OMB candidate Neera Tanden and wavering on the bids of Native American Congresswoman Deb Haaland for Interior and Mexican American Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services.
White identity politics and culture war — not substantive policy disagreements — are increasingly the entire opposition to President Biden’s agenda. From their Big Lie chorus to their abetment of the insurrection on January 6th (as displayed in today’s Senate hearing) to their current opposition to these would-be Cabinet members, the Republican playbook against the Biden administration still bears the hallmarks of Trumpism.
The question is: How do you confront a party hell-bent on satisfying an anti-democratic cult and whose voters, thanks to the rhetoric and presidency of Donald Trump — as well as an unprecedented disconnect between Main and Wall Street — are ready to break the system, and worse, dehumanize their fellow Americans?
As conservatives and liberals have all endured the wrath of Covid, getting the pandemic under control is the most strategic and compassionate policy to bend those unyielding two-time Trump voters toward at least a modicum of respect for the Biden way. Yet it’s not clear if even getting the country back to normal — replete with birthday parties and Little League sports contests without risk of deadly infection — would fracture Trump’s base. It will certainly continue to usher in a new era of “Biden Republican,” like those droves of suburban voters who recognized the need for competency and bucked their party in 2020 after taking a chance on Trump four years earlier.
As they aspire to expand their majority in 2022, Democrats do have to consider the constituency of Joe Manchin and the most potent responses to voters still under the spell of Donald Trump. How can you do that based on results and honesty rather than race-baiting? You have to believe, as President Biden does, in the potential for human rationality over lies — and human compassion over bigotry.
Let’s take two challenges intersecting with the pandemic response, which present a compelling moment for the new administration to make a new results-oriented argument and maybe — just maybe — deprogram Trump sympathizers.
In the wake of the Texas electrical crisis, where vaccination sites were shuttered, Biden should propose the most significant infrastructure plan in US history, and explain how it will tangibly secure the lives and livelihoods of Texans as well as West Virginians. It is rather confounding that the president has yet to visit the besieged state largely abandoned by its Republican elected officials.
The Biden administration also has an opportunity to deliver accountability on China with major declassification on the pandemic origins. This will help inform the public and prepare for the future. Trump claimed that the Chinese had the virus under control and was deadly wrong. Now Biden can demonstrate his independence, investigating all of the Chinese — and American — failures to protect US citizens during 2020 and 2021.
Trump failed to be a successful president-builder or protector. The truly decent Joe Biden can prove to be both.