On the cover of TIME Magazine this week, the 46th President of the United States arrives for his first day of work to discover the quickly departed Oval Office in shambles: looted papers litter the floor, and smoke billows from the windows, in scenes reminiscent of the Capitol building attacks. A landline phone is knocked off its cradle on the Resolute desk, emitting a continual busy signal. With insurgency, impeachment, and now the inauguration, January has been a hectic month.
Is there a way we can get aisle 45 cleaned up?
The Biden/Harris administration’s first day provided a few clues of the new team’s direction and early focus on addressing important concerns. Biden’s initial executive directives concentrated on the immediate crisis, with 400,000 Americans dead and more than 4000 dying every day of COVID-19. Biden signed the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to coordinate private-sector manufacturing of key goods. He also imposed a 100-day mask mandate for federal employees, which is expected to save 50,000 lives by April. The moves were among the most thorough federal responses to date, providing much-needed relief to states that had been left to source and coordinate everything from diagnostics to vaccine distribution logistics.
The United States of America has returned to the negotiating table.
In rejoining the World Health Organization, Biden also re-established cooperation with the worldwide community of scientists, intellectuals, and medical practitioners. This comes just in time for the WHO to prevent an exodus of American colleagues who would have been forced to cease scientific collaboration if they were not members. A reaffirmation of the Paris Agreement also signaled a return to science-led leadership and a rejection of “alternative facts” in favor of solving common challenges with partners. In Biden’s inaugural speech, fabricated facts were mentioned. The words “American carnage,” “America first,” and “success reserved for the President’s own followers” were no longer used. Biden urged all Americans to “listen to one another, hear one another, see one another,” emphasizing that “every difference doesn’t have to be a cause for utter war,” while blaming “fabricated facts” for some of the nation’s divisions and mistrust. Biden’s inauguration speech was half scolding, part pep talk, with a focus on hope and resilience. The kind of motivational speech given by a coach during a game that isn’t going well. Reminding the team of their common goal, encouraging players to see beyond their minor squabbles, and relying on character and sportsmanship more than skill to win the game. Inclusion, maybe, is the final I in January. The Biden/Harris government has a historic first: Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President.
Despite this scholar’s intense advocacy for “second laddie,” her husband is now referred to as “second gentleman.” Biden revoked Trump’s executive actions, including the Muslim ban, the deportation of DACA recipients, and the separation of families seeking asylum, in an effort to restore America’s reputation for inclusivity as a “shining beacon on a hill.” The “law and order” party has yielded to the rule of law, tempered by humility and sensitivity. It’s most visible in the White House press room, which is named after Jim Brady, the author of the Brady law, which required background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases. The name-calling, deceptive images, worthless props, and denigration of the press corps were all absent from the podium (Trump called the free press “enemies of the people” more than 70 times). This season, Saturday Night Live will have to look a little harder for fodder. At the very least, parents all over the world can now allow their children to see a presidential address.