Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Alamein in 1942, Winston Churchill stood up in the House of Commons and declared that ‘this is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’
Much the same is true of the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden. America’s slide into outright fascism and despair has been momentarily checked, but the battle for its soul is still raging, and the outcome is still in doubt.
President Biden enters office with a wealth of challenges. The dashboard, so to speak, is flashing red on just about every read-out. Some 400,000 Americans have died of coronavirus, in an outbreak that has refused to subside at any point, and which states have been left to fight alone. The only bright spot is that state governments appear to have done a better job of virus control than might otherwise be expected with minimal co-ordination; the US has suffered fewer deaths per million than Britain, which has had significantly fewer people to worry about. But that’s not to say the US has had a good pandemic. Britain’s response, by most metrics, has been abysmal. Tackling the outbreak, which has taken a firm hold of the U.S., will be costly, time-consuming, and offers Biden very little opportunity for a recognisable ‘victory‘, given that his administration will mainly be spent doing damage control after Trump’s negligence.
The next item on Biden’s to-do list is something that goes back to the founding of the Republic. The issue of racial injustice, always simmering beneath the surface, exploded into a summer of anger, with the killing of George Floyd in police custody sparking off protests that ran for months. Black Lives Matter, a movement that first took off in 2014 in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, became a clarion call for justice that resounded around the world. Meeting that demand will involve more than just tinkering around the edges. Biden’s executive order to end the use of private prisons by the federal government, a key driver of the mass incarceration that disproportionately affects black people, is a good start. But abolishing private prisons will require sustained and determined effort at multiple levels of government. And none of this will reform America’s police forces, a process which the President cannot initiate without Congress. Biden’s commitment to combatting white supremacy in his Inaugural Address was welcomed by many in America, and annoyed all the right people. But there remains a mountain to climb.
In many ways connected to this is the rise of the far-right in America. The Capitol riot was the latest headline event organised by this movement, which has grown to include ‘Qanon’ followers, the ‘Proud Boys’ – an assortment of paramilitary groups who call themselves militia*, and increasing numbers of the mainstream Republican Party. The groups of militia are, in the main, anti-governmental extremists, such as the ‘3 Percent-ers’ or the ‘Oathkeepers’. Prior to the insurrection, the far-right had held a rally in Charlottesville which resulted in the death of a counter-protestor, Heather Heyer, after being knocked down by a rally participant in a vehicle ramming attack. Before that, ‘Birtherism’ and the ‘Tea Party’ became popular during Obama’s time in office, both of which had an affinity for the conspiracy theory and a white supremacist version of anti-governmental sentiment. This phenomenon may not be possible to fix in the span of a single presidential term. Conspiracy theories, contrary to popular belief, cannot be subdued with facts. The far-right has a long history in America, with deep roots that stretch all the way back to the KKK in the 1920s, and before that during Reconstruction in the 19th century. But President Biden’s administration has to begin this battle soon, or risk being met at a time and place of their opponents’ choosing. Here, again, his task will be damage limitation.
There are nine years left to achieve a 45% reduction in emissions. That is to say, almost halve the total amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, produced by everything from cars to cattle, in nine years; actions necessary to achieve that need to be taken yesterday.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. President Biden will also have to contend with the legacy of his predecessor’s judicial appointments, the country’s crumbling infrastructure, the long wars that began in the early 2000s, great power competition between the U.S., China and Russia, the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea, the deal to avoid the same proliferation in Iran and so on. Much of his administration will be fire-fighting, but all of it will be decisive in determining what the future will look like, both for the country and for the world.
*To be a/the ‘Militia’ in U.S. law has a very specific meaning. The only entity that actually meets the definition is today known as the U.S. National Guard, which is controlled by the U.S. government.