With National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s words still ringing in the air — “Being American is more than a pride we inherit / It’s the past we step into and how we repair it” — a newly minted President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris stepped into our recent galling past to begin the long labor of salvaging what’s left of our future.
Before the sun was up on Thursday, Biden had signed a fistful of directives and executive orders meant to begin clearing away the rubble and refuse left behind by the earthquake of the Trump administration. Myriad policy areas were affected, some more profoundly than others. Among other things, last night’s flurry of activity was an education for many outside of government on the practical limits of executive orders.
One example of this was Biden’s order on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). With Donald Trump and his pet fascist Stephen Miller in charge, DACA recipients were whipsawed over the last four years by cruel attempts to fling them from the country. Last night, a Biden order was able to bolster some protections for the hundreds of thousands affected, but beyond that, the best he could do was to urge Congress to pass legislation granting permanent resident status and a path to citizenship.
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Despite all the self-serving ballyhoo Trump slathered around them, that’s what most executive orders are in the end: A memo to Congress urging action on something of importance to the administration. Other orders that touch on matters beyond the immediate purview of the legislative branch, however, actually come with teeth.
Biden yanked the permit on the Keystone XL pipeline and paused construction of Trump’s farcical southern border wall. He has ended the racist “Muslim ban” and rejoined the Paris climate accord. He blew up Trump’s ridiculous 1776 Commission, which sought to influence educators away from teaching children that slavery was bad and racism still exists everywhere. He moved to extend the federal ban on evictions, and placed a temporary ban on drilling and pillaging the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Without question, Biden’s most important efforts yesterday and today focused on dealing with the ongoing and unchecked COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in this country alone. The pressing need for speedy action came into grim focus after the Biden team realized Trump’s administration had no plan whatsoever for vaccine distribution in place. None. According to one source, the Biden administration has to start its own plan “from scratch.”
With the Trump administration now receding in the rearview mirror, it is going to be incredibly important going forward to gather and compile facts like this, if only as a matter of ultimate accounting. They had no vaccine plan, for all the “Warp Speed” blather, they had no plan. A nation that has been hiding under the bed for the last 10 months was given false hope about the speed with which vaccines could be made available.
This was another lethal lie, and now the longer it takes to get the vaccine distributed, the more likely a mutation will arise and obviate the historic medical success thus far achieved. Throughout, the dead will continue to challenge the nighttime stars for numerical supremacy. I would call this the final insult, but for the fact that more such insults are surely on their way.
“President Biden will use his first full day in office on Thursday to go on the offensive against the coronavirus, with a 21-page national strategy that includes aggressive use of executive authority to protect workers, advance racial equity and ramp up the manufacturing of test kits, vaccines and supplies,” reports The New York Times. Not a new plan, because there was no old plan. At long last, a plan to grind this monster to some semblance of a halt.
According to the White House, this is the story for the next ten days: an avalanche of activity seeking to undo some of what has been done, and to begin doing what hasn’t been done.
The challenges facing the Biden administration are so extreme and pressing that many are urging swift and massive action. “Where the Obama administration’s approach was too often clever and strewn with budgetary wonkiness,” writes Derek Thompson for The Atlantic, “the Biden formula should embrace the opposite: big, fast, and simple.”
There are plenty of reasons to doubt, or even dread, the intentions and capabilities of this centrist administration. Given the last four decades of general Democratic ideology and behavior, this hesitancy is not only fair but absolutely necessary. On the activist front, there can be no sense of EVERYTHING’S COOL NOW YOU GUYS, which was sadly all too present after Barack Obama’s 2008 election.
We don’t have that kind of time anymore — really, we never did — and if yesterday and today are any guide, it appears the president understands this. Yet, of course, performance cannot be judged from such a small sample. It’s up to us to make sure there are more days like this — and that they go above and beyond correcting the wrongs of the Trump administration. It’s time to issue our bold demands, including those we know that Biden can’t or won’t address by executive order. It’s time to build momentum from the ground up. Let’s go.