by Matan Josephy, Aden Tom & Arshia Verma, Opinions Writers
graphic by Emily Cheng
In his rousing victory speech, President Joe Biden promised to unite our divided nation amidst the joint crises of the pandemic, ongoing racial injustice, economic recession and climate change. Finding solutions to these problems, however, is only the beginning of a long journey to national stability and unity.
If Biden makes good on his pledge, he will be revered, his legacy admired for years to come. If Biden fails, his presidency will be a disappointment, and the hopes of millions of Americans relying on him and Vice President Kamala Harris to forge a better future and unify the nation will be dashed. In terms of politically and ideologically unifying America and healing the systemic wounds that divide Democrats and Republicans, it appears we have reached the point of no return, making the odds of success for Biden slim and rendering his decision to push for unity unwise.
Biden has repeatedly claimed that he will work to combat systemic racism, but dismantling systems sown deep in American history requires not only words, but action. Ever since announcing his candidacy, Biden has repeatedly told citizens that he was the best candidate to fight racial injustice, and he has vowed to rein in police brutality and other major issues in the criminal justice system.
The U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, however, highlighted just how difficult this task will be. The stark display of white supremacy and violence begs the question: how will Biden unify our nation when there are two Americas, one of progressivism and tolerance and one of bigotry and white supremacy? Our leaders and the media have politicized nearly everything — from Black Lives Matter to COVID-19 — sowing division across socioeconomic and racial lines. Our nation is already divided, and Biden’s approach of discussing ideas across the aisle, but never acting on them or providing a detailed plan, is impractical.
Beyond unfeasible, Biden’s policies seem unwise, especially as he takes office while America is grappling with unprecedented inequality. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was dealing with gargantuan disparities in wealth; Pew Research Center found in 2020 — just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — that income inequality in the United States drastically increased under the Trump administration.
As wages have stagnated, the share of wealth held by the top few percent of the American population grew with few constraints. The average wealth of a white household has grown to become nearly seven times larger than that of a BIPOC family. The pandemic has only exacerbated economic inequality, leaving millions unemployed and struggling to stay afloat. The economy contracted, and America entered the worst recession since the Great Depression.
All the while, America’s billionaires consolidated nearly a trillion dollars in new wealth. Inequality of the scale that America faces now is unsustainable, and tackling it must be a top priority. Yet, for all the urgency, the window of opportunity is shrinking. That isn’t to say that it is impossible to tackle such inequity, but doing so requires bold strokes that Biden’s message of bipartisanship risks compromising.
While some of Biden’s policies are more progressive than what Obama or Trump advocated for during their terms, he won the presidency on a platform much more moderate than that of many of his opponents. Unless Biden strays massively from the message that got him elected, his record will likely constrain him to a massively scaled-back version of any legislative agenda he has campaigned on. But even if Biden bows to progressive pressure and embraces the larger steps that are necessary to adequately address the issue at hand, Congress’s current setup could doom that as well.
The Democratic majority in the House is slim, meaning that any legislation will inevitably have to cater to moderate Democrats to pass. The Senate is in an even worse position — with Democratic control contingent on the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Harris, even one defection could doom any efforts to address wealth inequality.
And with moderate senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia already raising objections to cornerstones of President Biden’s legislative goals like bigger stimulus checks and more expansive relief packages, it looks increasingly likely that any bills will need to cater to their agenda. Unity is important, but when it comes at the expense of meaningful policy that addresses the biggest issues of our time, it can do more harm than good.
With the slim majority in the House, passing legislation targeting climate change, for instance, is up in the air. The effects of climate change bring up a debate that roots back to politics. Although studies have shown the severe effects climate change will have, the question of climate change’s legitimacy is still a debate amongst politicians.
The disagreement displays a more pressing issue at stake. Every major controversial topic, including climate change, has become politicized. Generally, Democrats and Republicans have conflicting views, and the negativity and violence that come with the disagreement only contribute to the downfall of our country. Focusing on each politicized issue is not how Biden should choose to use this precious four-year window.
Split opinions regarding COVID-19, racial and economic inequality and climate change shows the clear division in our country. The line has been drawn in the sand, and the thought of reunification is a forgotten dream. Will Biden’s dramatic change be effective in unifying the country? Will Biden’s promise be fulfilled? Only time will tell.