After a little over twenty-four hours since taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden has already made it clear that he plans to be a true leader at a time of crisis for this country. Inheriting the dual crisis of the COVID-19 Pandemic, which has as of this writing killed 406,190 people, almost as many Americans that were killed during the Second World War, and a now-worsening economic crisis with 6.7% of Americans unemployed as of January 2021, he is inheriting the worst situation for any President of the United States since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. In addition to those crises, which are intrinsically linked, there is also the dual crisis of racial inequality and the extreme division within our society, the latter only worsened by the actions of President Donald Trump in inciting his supporters to attack the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, and before that by his rhetoric and denial of how great the COVID-19 threat is to the country. That is why in some of his first actions, President Biden made handling all these problems his priority. Although his inaugural address calling for unity in handling the pandemic and showing genuine sympathy to the people who lost their lives and to their families, it was not a tonic to the problems we face today. Instead, as his cabinet is confirmed and legislation is being worked out through the Congress, Biden’s first executive orders are a sign of significant change for the better.
Some of these first executive orders have directed the public battle against COVID-19. Included was a challenge for all Americans to wear a mask for one hundred days, with people being required to wear these masks on all federal property, from buildings, parks, lands, and federal employees. With Trump’s lack of leadership when it came to wearing a mask in public until months into the pandemic, this action makes it clear that Biden’s priorities are the health of the public. He also signaled that the United States would rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO) to reignite the global effort to combat COVID-19 and to prevent ceding the organization’s control entirely to China. He also ordered a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until at least March 31, while a pause on student loan payment will be extended to September 30, ensuring that a nation facing an unprecedented crisis will have some relief. Finally, he reinstated the Directorate of Global Health Security and Biodefense and will restore the White House’s involvement and creating a federal effort to combat COVID-19 and to distribute the vaccine. Even more changes were announced today, January 21, 2021, including signing an executive order to use the Defense Production Act to induce companies to produce facemasks and vaccines, a tool that Trump seldom used and only in the first weeks of the crisis last year. Now, Joe Biden will use all the tools available to get the country through this unprecedented crisis.
Although there is still a lot more to do over the coming months to get the COVID-19 Pandemic under control, it appears that President Biden is on the right track in terms of policies. His policies help to create federal guidelines for the fifty states to follow and offers consistent leadership. He has not downplayed the virus, which Trump did in his first months. In addition to all of that, Biden is lacking the bluster and bullying of Trump, bringing with him a sense of humility, decency, and empathy. Almost half a million Americans are dead, a milestone no person should be proud of, but the response should not be to defend Trump and blame everyone else but him for his failure, but instead to recognize that Biden faces this unique crisis, and in his first days has done more to help the American people and to combat the crisis. We will still be dealing with COVID-19 for the months to come, but it will end within the next year. When that ends and how many people die is all dependent on the leadership in our federal government. The CDC warned several weeks ago that the death rate will reach 500,000 deaths by this time next month and will likely continue to climb. If that number reaches 620,000, which is certainly possible based on how fast the death rate has risen in recent weeks and months, more Americans will have died from one year of COVID-19 than in the entire four years of the American Civil War. At any other time, such a crisis would have brought the American people together, but President Trump’s politicization of the virus and his refusal to serve as an example or provide empathy to a suffering American people has only expanded the rift developing within the country.
The battle to defeat the COVID-19 Pandemic has been a long one filled with sacrifice both in terms of lives and livelihoods. Important events such as graduations, weddings, and celebrations among friends and family have been put off. Small businesses that families had sacrificed much for have disappeared and with them countless jobs. Lives too have been lost, not just from the virus, but also those who were unable to enjoy the final months of their lives with friends and family, and many were unable to properly grieve those loved ones. Any of these challenges alone would be enough to make or break a commander-in-chief. It did for Donald Trump, his four years being a time of bitter division, political rancor, a rise of nativism and isolationism, and his final year with the COVID-19 Pandemic and the economic collapse doomed his administration. Abraham Lincoln dealt with a country at its most divided, and while our division today is nowhere near as bitter as it was then, it is the worst since then. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was saddled first with the Great Depression and led this country through the Second World War
Different leaders have dealt in different ways to public health emergencies. The Spanish Flu occurred on Woodrow Wilson’s watch, while the AIDS Crisis served as a blemish on Ronald Reagan’s record. It was, unusually enough, Barack Obama that was the most successful in handling epidemics under his term. The Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak from April 2009 to April 2010 killed only 12,469 people, and although far more infectious than COVID-19, the mortality rate was lower. The 2014 Ebola Outbreak likewise only saw eleven Americans infected, and the CDC mobilized not just to prevent an outbreak in the United States, but to assist efforts to halt it in West Africa. Obama also dealt with the 2015 Zika Outbreak, combating it with federal funding and other efforts. It was in response to these crises that the Obama administration established the Directorate of Global Health Security and Biodefense, which under the Trump administration was streamlined into the National Security Council, and only today re-established.
The new administration must now deal with these crises all at the same time and with effectiveness. Joe Biden helped to lead the task force during the Obama administration to eliminate the Swine Flu, a success by all measures, despite early setbacks. His experience is certainly clear considering his actions during the first two days of his administration. In addition to all of that, his decency and empathy—traits that Donald Trump lacked—are present. The nation is in mourning for the almost half a million people killed by this horrific disease, and his taking the crisis seriously means that a renewed effort to combat COVID-19 might help to not just bring the country back together under the spirit of community action, but also repair the economy. Although many people believe that Donald Trump would have been re-elected had it not been for COVID-19, historic figures are not judged by their contemporaries or by history with how they behaved and what they did when times were good, but instead when they faced a crisis. Donald Trump was a clear failure when handling COVID-19 as well as the bitter divisions in our society. His time in office will be remembered for how he handled that crisis. In Joe Biden, he must deal with this crisis first and foremost, and if his first two days are any indication, he will ultimately succeed