Will Joe Biden’s Inauguration Heal a Divided Nation?
January 14, 2021
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Next week, Joe Biden becomes America’s 46th president and inherits major problems that few other presidents faced upon their inauguration. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dead due to the coronavirus pandemic. Business closures and rising unemployment have crippled the economy. American democracy is in peril as evidenced by Republican attempts to overturn the election and the mob that sacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. A large swath of the electorate falsely believes Biden won office by cheating. And his predecessor has just been impeached a second time.
USC experts are available to answer key questions, such as: How do new presidents respond to crises? How can Biden unite a divided country and restore faith in democracy? Will the new president be able to turn the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic and related job losses?
The threats to democracy won’t end with inauguration
Erroll Southers is a professor of the practice of national and homeland security at the USC Price School of Public Policy and director of the Safe Communities Institute. He is a former FBI special agent and was deputy director of homeland security under California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“We should not see the inauguration of President-elect Biden as a finish line, should the extremist threat seem to stand down,” he said. “There is no finish line in homeland security. Radicalization to violence does not occur overnight and coaxing someone back from extremism is not a simple, nor always successful, endeavor.
“Even when every person who participated in the Capitol attack is identified, arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the exiting president’s own executive order, extremists will remain.”
American must counter racism that fuels domestic terrorism
Mindy Romero is an expert on civic engagement and political rights. She is the founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
“The unprecedented assault on our nation’s capital represents a brazen and violent attack on a peaceful transition of power and the democratic ideal of free and fair elections,” she said.
“While the attack is over, the threat is not. Collectively, our nation has much work to do to ensure that the next administration transitions into office peacefully and with the support needed to govern successfully. We need to work aggressively to counter the emboldened racism that fuels domestic terrorism and drives on-going recruitment efforts. Our nation must come together to counter and prevent such actions in the future while continuing to work for a stronger, more inclusive democracy.”
This will be no ordinary transition
William Resh is a professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy and an expert in the U.S. presidency and executive branch politics and management.
“We have not seen a presidential transition in the modern presidency as bereft of goodwill by an outgoing administration as the current transition,” he said. “Presidents and Congresses have worked for decades to ensure a peaceful, informed, and nonpartisan transition of power through the development of both legislation and institutional norms.
“The current debacle harms our general readiness, the government’s capacity to address wicked policy problems and the country’s standing in the world.”
Biden must tackle COVID-19, economy while restoring trust
Robert Shrum is the director of the Center for the Political Future at the USC Dornsife College and a longtime Democratic political strategist.
“One of the biggest challenges President Biden faces is restoring some sort of shared citizenship, fealty and loyalty to the constitution and the democratic process,” he said. “Democracy can’t function if every time you lose, you say, ‘It was stolen from me.’ Or if you think your opponents are mortal enemies, and if you play the game and lose, you burn down the stadium. That will destroy democracy.”
- Biden’s immediate imperatives are to combat COVID-19 and to get the economy moving again. The success of his vaccination strategy will be critical.
- On the economy, Biden will pursue not only relief for Americans in distress, but advance infrastructure investments to speed up economic growth. He’ll seek to make that growth inclusive, launching a new economic era for communities of color and hollowed out rural areas and small towns where alienated voters supported Trump.
- Through all this Biden will be careful to keep his eyes on the prize of the midterm election.
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Biden’s presidency begins during “unprecedented” despair
Alison Dundes Renteln is a political science professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and an expert in American politics, cultural change and constitutional rights.
“President-elect Biden is coming into office when the country and world are topsy-turvy,” she said. “It has been an unending nightmare, a consequence of the pandemic, insurrection and economic turmoil — a despair that seems almost unprecedented. Leadership is urgently needed to help relieve the tremendous anxiety, suffering and fear that exists.
“Our American creed ‘E pluribus unum’ will help unify the country in the aftermath of so much tragedy. Everyone is saying that, at last, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
- Many Americans who want to see President Trump punished for inciting insurrection may be disappointed, as history shows bringing the country together requires a less punitive approach.
- Americans are future-oriented, so President Biden will focus on how his administration can help right wrongs and provide access to jobs, health care and COVID-19 vaccinations.
How should reporters cover political polarization?
Marc Ambinder is is a longtime journalist for The Atlantic, an adjunct professor with expertise on cybersecurity issues at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and research fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.
“Journalists are used to ‘otherizing’ white militia groups and often reduce them to the sum of their stereotypes: rural, poor, uneducated — even their diets,” he said. “This separates them (bad, racist) from us (good, non-racist). But this paradigm has always been flawed and even harmful.
“These movements are large, cross-cutting through virtually all socioeconomic cleavages, and they reflect a frightening reality: that so many of our fellow Americans have moved into a dreamworld where nothing we say and do can persuade them that there’s a common point of reference. Understanding the grievances and disconnection — still an essential task — does not excuse or minimize it. It will allow us to make careful distinctions going forward.”
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Trump’s influence is far from over
Manuel Pastor is a professor of sociology and American studies & ethnicity and director of the USC Equity Research Institute at the USC Dornsife College.
“As America awaits January 20th, we hope for a peaceful transition and a new sense of order to follow. But we know the story of Trumpism is far from over and we must remain vigilant,” he said.
“The work ahead will require that America reckon with and root out structural racism, combat white supremacist violence, and hold accountable its enablers. It will require addressing systemic economic inequality and learning the lesson — driven home so sharply by the COVID-19 pandemic — that we all do better when we protect everyone.”
Photo by Geoff Livingston via Flickr Creative Commons