So, four long years of the presidency of Donald J Trump has finally come to an end. Trump will be remembered as a divisive, one-term president who was impeached in his final year. His presidency will be immortalised by a barely-begun border wall, images of children in cages who remain separated from their families, and the gassing of his own citizens to take a picture outside a church he doesn’t go to, holding a book he doesn’t read.
He leaves behind a deeply divided nation crippled by the coronavirus, entering into a depression unlike anything we have experienced in living memory, and withdrawing from the global stage to fight its own internal battles.
Even more worryingly for Democrats, the Republicans have retained control of the Senate and have increased their seats in the House of Representatives, leaving Democrats with a razor thin margin of governance. They also hold power in a number of key state legislatures and governorships not to mention the now strong Republican majority in the Supreme Court.
With this as the context for a Democratic President to take office, Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. What can we expect to see over the next four years from President Biden?
It’s somewhat frightening to think but if the coronavirus pandemic had not happened, and the Republicans in charge handled the issue so poorly, it is likely that the recent election would have returned Trump to the White House. Getting the pandemic under control is the first and foremost thing that Biden has to deal with. If he fails at this, almost nothing else will really matter as he campaigned hard on it and its ongoing effect will overshadow everything else.
Implementing a strong track and trace system as well as boosting the rate of testing will be first on his list. He is also looking to use government powers to force businesses to churn out PPE and will try to make mask-wearing mandatory.
More broadly, he wants to expand on the Obamacare era public health policies by allowing for optional buy-ins to the Affordable Care system and lowering the age of Medicare from 65 to 60.
Build Back Better
One of the key things Biden spoke about heavily on the campaign trail was this Build Back Better initiative. That means that when the pandemic is over, or at least, in a more manageable state, he plans to reform the economy in a way that would give those at the bottom a better chance and access to a more equal, fair labour market.
Biden has said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour ($20.52 AUD) and will enact a range of measures to force businesses to use American produced goods first.
Criminal Justice Reform
Another big campaign promise was the push for criminal justice reform. Both Biden and Harris have come under fire for supporting measures in the past that directly contributed to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx people.
The aims of the upcoming administration will now be to implement a grant system incentivising states to reduce their incarceration levels, support funding for minority business grants, eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing and abolish the death penalty.
In addition, Biden and Harris have both stated that decriminalising the use and possession of cannabis will be a top priority in addition to wiping the records of those who have previously been convicted of crimes relating to the drug.
Biden has stated that one of the first things he will do in office is rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, something Trump pulled the US out of. That will commit the US to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 28% of 2005 levels by 2025. He has further stated that he will commit the country to net zero emissions by 2050 (something our own government has refused to do).
While he has refused to support the Green New Deal put forward by left-wing Democrats like AOC, he has said he will spend $1.7 trillion on renewable technologies, research, and infrastructure in an effort to transition blue collar workers away from coal and gas jobs and into new technologies.
Another of the very first things that Biden has planned is removing the Trump-era restrictions on immigration. This means repealing the still-active “muslim bans” that stop people emmigrating to the US from several muslim-majority countries, though this policy has shifted over time to include large parts of Africa too.
He has also vowed to end the policy of separating children from their families at the US-Mexico border and will protect the rights of “dreamers”, those brought as children to the US by immigrant parents, ensuring they can stay and get access to federal student support.
A big part of Biden’s foreign policy strategy is going to be around a return to the normality of Obama-era international relations. That means strengthening ties with NATO allies instead of attacking them, and rejoining the WHO. Biden, as Obama’s VP, is likely to pursue similar alliance-building strategies across the globe rather than taking an individualist approach with, say North Korea.
How likely he is to pass any of this will all be down to whether or not the Dems can win a Senate majority by flipping two senate seats in Georgia in February, something they’ve never done before. If not, Biden will be governing without the support of the Senate and a tiny majority in the House with the Republicans doing everything in their power to block them wherever possible. It could be a rocky term ahead for Biden.