The Presidentís Priorities
Many problems will carry over into 2021.
The economy will be shaky as long as the virus remains rampant.
The year ahead in America will be a big improvement on its awful
predecessor. The country was wracked by such a series of scandals and
disasters in 2020 that, by the time voters limped to the polls, Donald
Trumpís impeachment trial ten months earlier barely warranted a mention. A
quarter of a million Americans were dead of covid-19. Over 10m jobs had been
lost. The racial grievances highlighted by the Black Lives Matter
protestsósome of the biggest in American historyóhad been inflamed by the
presidentís race-baiting on the trail. Mr Trumpís refusal to accept the
election result then put even the countryís democracy in doubt.
Many of those problems will carry over into 2021. The economy will be shaky
as long as the virus remains rampant. The mistrust of the electoral process
that Mr Trump has encouraged among his supporters will be long-lasting. Yet
the simple fact of his ejection from the White Houseóafter he became the
fourth president in a century to fail to win a second termóhas transformed
Americaís prospects of managing its troubles. Mr Trump saw covid-19 as a
communications problem to be spun into irrelevance. He saw Americaís racial
divisions as a political opportunity. In Joe Biden, America will have a
competent president who respects expertise and is committed to bringing
Mr Biden will signal this in an opening flurry of executive actions. He will
cancel Americaís withdrawal from the World Health Organisation, rejoin the
Paris climate agreement and reinstate the Obama administrationís protections
for illegal immigrants brought to America as children. He will scrap Mr
Trumpís ban on travellers from some majority-Muslim countries. Mr Biden will
end his predecessorís policy of separating illegal child migrants from their
parents and launch a mission to find the missing parents of 545 migrant
children in custody. He will issue a national mask mandate.
Despite the constraints on his power, 2021 could turn out well
for Mr Biden.
His administration will also take rapid steps to rebuild Americaís
Trump-bruised institutions. It will restore credible scientists to the
Environmental Protection Agency and reintroduce firewalls to protect the
independence of the Department of Justice. Mr Bidenís secretary of state
will need to restore confidence and order to Americaís muchabused diplomatic
corps as much as to its alliances.
These measures will have added significance because of the Democratsí
failure to capture the Senate in November. They are unlikely to correct that
by winning the two Senate run-off elections due to be held in Georgia in
early January. That means Mr Biden will be unable to pass almost any of the
economic, health-care, climate and tax policies he promised on the trail.
One of his first priorities had been to pass an expansive $2trn economic
stimulus package, including investments in green and other infrastructure.
Getting a much skinnier stimulus package past Mitch McConnell, the veteran
Republican Senate leader, will be a struggle.
Mr McConnell will try to deny the Biden administration any wins and
re-establish his partyís reputation for fiscal conservatism (a dogma that
only seems to concern its lawmakers in opposition), with a view to making
gains in the mid-term elections in 2022. Blocked on Capitol Hill, Mr Biden
will have to take more ambitious executive actions to make progress at home,
as did the Obama administrations in which he previously served. Expect him
to institute further curbs on pollution from coal- and gas-fired power
stationsóthough whether such measures will survive the scrutiny of an
increasingly activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench is
In foreign affairs, the new administration will represent a dramatic change
in tone from its predecessoróand more continuity than many expect. Mr Biden
will soothe Americaís traditional allies and restore American leadership to
the multinational efforts to contain climate change, Russian aggression and
Iranís nuclear programme (see Middle East section). But he will maintain the
Trump administrationís adversarial posture towards China, and some of its
tariffs. He will slow, but not reverse, Americaís disengagement from
Afghanistan. And in Americaís accelerating shift in focus from west to
eastówhich Mr Biden will not interruptóthose same old allies may detect more
than a hint of Mr Trumpís transactional style.
Despite the constraints on his power, 2021 could turn out well for Mr Biden.
This will rest above all on his administrationís ability to make a covid-19
vaccine quickly and widely available. If that goes smoothly, the economy
will rapidly make up its lost ground and Mr Bidenís popularity will surge.
If it does not, the hope stirred by the end of Mr Trumpís misrule will soon
dissipateóto the former presidentís advantage.
The degree to which Mr Trump retreats from public life is another great
question for the year ahead. Members of the Republican establishment fear
that, by looming over their defeated party on Twitter and television, Mr
Trump will be a barrier to reforming it. Their fears will probably be