We did it. Now what?
We have a year—maybe less—to push President Biden and Congress to address our urgent crises and make real improvements in people's lives. Might as well get started.
Who’d have thought? After 1,461 days—35,064 often-terrifying hours—we have a new president, a Democratic-controlled Congress, and Donald Trump is just another schlub retiree in Florida. If you haven’t taken a moment to breathe deeply and enjoy this moment, please do so now.
OK, now that that’s over, let’s take stock of where we are.
In his inaugural address, Joe Biden laid out the stakes clearly. “This is a time of testing,” he said, perhaps not intending the obvious pun:
“We face an attack on democracy and on truth. A raging virus. Growing inequity. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. [Note: I feel like a modifier was missing there.] Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities. Now we must step up. All of us. It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do.”
I couldn’t agree more. The crises that Trump and his enablers have left us with are daunting. Over 2,200 Americans are dying of COVID every day. Our immigration concentration camps are full. An eviction crisis looms. The long wars continue overseas. The world’s remaining carbon budget to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming is dwindling.
On a political time scale, we have about a year—maybe less—before the primaries for the 2022 midterms start shaping up, and the forces of reaction (read: Mitch McConnell and the Congressional Blood Libel Caucus) start preparing to take the federal government hostage again. If the Democrats haven’t convinced people they will measurably improve their lives before then, all the hard work of these last few months and years could be lost.
The good news is, we have the gift of now. Here are some ideas on what can be done, quickly and over the near term, to ensure that the page stays turned:
David Dayen of The American Prospect has spent the last few months compiling a Day One Agenda, which includes Biden’s unilateral authority to cancel student debt, raise workers’ wages, expand access to financial services through postal banking, end the war on terror, close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, stop the new nuclear arms race, and more.
The American Civil Liberties Union has a comprehensive list of “asks” that deserves attention. Some of the big ones include granting categorical clemency to thousands serving unjustifiable sentences in federal prison, restarting the asylum process and restoring the United States’ commitment to humanitarian protection, and restoring voting rights by directing the Justice Department to review statewide redistricting plans.
Kesley Atherton argues in Slate that Biden should demote Trump’s Space Force back to its previous position within the Air Force—not for its own sake, but to ensure that space stays a commons for all the people of the world, instead of the next battleground of empires.
And yours truly dropped a piece in the New Republic this morning arguing that we should follow the examples of other nations that were brave enough to pursue real justice against despotic leaders by convicting Trump in the Senate, bringing him and his cronies to justice in the courts, and instituting meaningful democratic reforms to ensure that a fascist can’t come to power again. As I argue in the piece:
The alternative many seem to hope for—to do nothing and hope that impunity will somehow cure impunity—is suicidal. It will set the stage for the people who endangered our democracy to do it again, except next time with better planning and more competent actors.
Biden asked us on the steps of a battered and depopulated capitol: “We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era. Will we rise to the occasion?”
There’s only one way to find out. Let’s get to work.
Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book will trace the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the making and breaking of America’s empire. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.