Alan Zendell, August 12, 2021
Nearly seven months into his presidency, Joe Biden faces more problems than he did when he took office. He inherited a nation plagued by divisiveness whose root causes go back to Colonial days, which his predecessor exacerbated for his own benefit. That divisiveness is more poignant today, exactly four years since the White Supremacist invasion of Charlottesville, Virginia. With the perspective of hindsight, the most significant memory of that day was then President Trump’s refusal to condemn a racist attempt to re-awaken a violent, fascist movement that had lain dormant waiting for a leader to deliver the endorsement they received when Trump said, “There are fine people on both sides.” There weren’t.
That divisiveness led to the perpetuation of Trump’s Big Lie, the January 6th insurrection, and a flood of red state laws attempting to assure that non-white Americans won’t vote in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful voice. I believe that if Congress does not pass the voting rights bills currently on its docket, it could spell the end of our constitutional democracy. But recent developments prove we face even greater threats from enemies that couldn’t care less about politics, and which could defeat our too-little too-late responses.
Today, the COVID pandemic and climate change are more dire threats than they were six months ago. It’s time Americans woke up to the reality of the damage they can cause to our society. Future historians may well look back on this year as our final opportunity to act responsibly to protect future generations. Today’s news makes the prospects seem grim.
Yesterday, senators from states whose economies rely on income from fossil fuels voted down an amendment to the $3.5 trillion budget framework that Democrats passed by a 50-49 margin, that would have cut off tax credits for fossil fuel production. Senators, led by Lindsey Graham (R, SC) claimed it would cause prices for gasoline and heating oil to skyrocket. They’re probably right, but this is a time for hard decisions. A few years back when oil prices tanked and gasoline sold for under two dollars a gallon, did you cringe a little while you were reaping those big savings as gasoline consumption went through the roof, setting back efforts to change to electric, non-polluting vehicles? The recently released report on the worldwide effects of climate change make rising fuel costs a small price to pay to protect our future.
Possibly worse, despite continual warnings from the entire medical and public health communities that while COVID had been set back by vaccines, masks, and distancing, the virus was still with us, we have not had the will to permanently put it to bed. If half our country remains unvaccinated, the virus will mutate into more contagious and deadly strains. The delta variant is already ravaging states that refused to mandate masks and vaccinations, and epidemiologists warn that far more dangerous variants may follow, including the possibility of airborne contagion.
Health care systems in Texas and Florida are already at the breaking point with thousands of children now hospitalized. Yet, Governors Abbott and DeSantis continue to pander to Trump’s base rather than protect their citizens. What happens when whole economies have to shut down again and our failure to act makes it unsafe to send our children to school? As finite resources run out, productivity falls, and supply lines degrade, how long before our economy collapses?
Despite all that, there are signs of progress, and President Biden is undeterred in pressing his agenda of saving America’s soul and substance. His first success was passing the $2.2 trillion CARES act last March. Four months of economic data since then show that our economy has added an average of over 800,000 jobs each month due to the stimulus it provided, not to mention that millions of households can pay rent and put food on the table.
Rather than try to kill the filibuster outright, Biden opted to keep his campaign promise of bipartisan government. It was risky, but his gamble paid off, as nineteen Republican Senators voted to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. In return, holdout Senators Joe Manchin (D, WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D, AZ) gave Democrats the one vote majority they needed for their $3.5 trillion budget package. These are significant victories, a light at the end of our tunnel of doom. But important as they are, they are only the first steps in getting us back on track.
The House still must act on both the infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills. The latter would “expand Medicare to include dental, health and vision benefits, and possibly to lower the program’s eligibility age from 65; fund a host of climate change programs; provide free prekindergarten and community college; create a paid family and medical leave program; and levy higher taxes on wealthy businesses and corporations.”
A tough road, fraught with peril, but our future depends on it. President Biden, who was accused of being too old, sick, and feeble-minded by Trump supporters, has thus far proven himself up to the task. There’s no sign that he’s about to slow down, either.