Democrat Joe Biden enters the White House on Wednesday, as more than 3,000 Americans die each day from COVID-19, nearly a million are registered unemployed each week, and tens of millions doubt his legitimacy.
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“What is unique for Biden is not so much that the country is in crisis, but the number of simultaneous crises” that he will have to face from the first days of his mandate, notes political scientist Mary Stuckey from Pennsylvania State University.
Some, pandemics and recessions, are cyclical and linked. Others, political and racial divisions, have their own old logic. But he will have to face them all, immediately, while the Senate will be partly occupied in trying Donald Trump for “incitement to insurgency”.
The health situation has never been so serious since the Spanish flu of 1918.
The United States is the most affected country in the world by COVID-19, with 24 million cases and nearly 400,000 deaths. And the appearance of the new British variant raises fears of the worst.
A huge vaccination campaign began in mid-December but it is progressing much more slowly than expected: only ten million people have received a first injection, well below the 20 million planned for the end of December 2020 by the outgoing administration.
Joe Biden has pledged to step up a gear to reach 100 million injections by day 100 of his presidency, “I have no doubts that we can do it,” he said. “The health of the Nation is at stake!”
Recession and unemployment
The containment measures adopted to stem the spread of the virus have brought an abrupt halt to the economy which, according to the US central bank (Fed), contracted by 2.4% in 2020.
Many companies have had to close their doors and lay off their staff. Other employees have resigned to take care of their children, deprived of school. A total of 18 million Americans today live on unemployment assistance.
“Human suffering is spreading out in broad daylight and we have no time to waste,” commented Joe Biden, unveiling an emergency plan of 1900 billion dollars (US), which he intends to validate by the Congress as soon as possible.
As vice-president of Barack Obama, he had already overseen a gigantic stimulus package after the financial crisis of 2009, which had already darkened the beginnings of their mandate.
This time, the challenge is quite different: “He must manage the economic crisis, while trying to immunize 300 million people and while leading a seriously divided nation,” notes Shirley Anne Warshaw, professor of political science at Gettysburg College.
The drift of the Trumpists
After four years of a presidency that was quick to pit Americans against each other, Donald Trump’s post-election crusade has widened the rift even further.
Under the pretext of “fraud”, the Republican refused to concede his defeat. If he failed to convince the courts, he sowed doubt in the minds of millions of his supporters, the most ardent of whom launched an assault on the Capitol on January 6.
“The United States has not known such a crisis of political legitimacy since the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln” in 1861, which had kicked off the Civil War, notes David Farber, professor of history at the University of Kansas.
Accused of having encouraged this violence, Donald Trump must be tried by the Senate. “It will literally eat up the time Joe Biden needs” to launch his projects, remarks Mr. Farber.
And if some Republicans have finally distanced themselves from the impetuous billionaire, “he will remain a noisy force, perhaps throughout the Biden presidency, which will not be able to do much,” adds the historian.
The Democrat, who has promised to “reconcile America”, also risks coming up against the existence of “two different media ecosystems that offer people two different views of the world,” according to political scientist Mary Stuckey.
The big summer protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer have died down, but the Democrat was elected with overwhelming support from the black population and he must now meet their expectations.
“Racial inequalities are everywhere: in the economy, access to housing, to voting, police violence … It has been festering for years and years”, according to Shirley Anne Warshaw, who foresees “a strong mobilization of the new administration ”on this front.
Already, Joe Biden has made a team more diverse than ever. “He shows his supporters that the United States will try to turn the page on racial justice,” said David Farber.
Not all levers
Faced with all these “priorities”, “we will have to be multitasking,” the future vice-president, Kamala Harris, acknowledged Friday on NPR.
Faced with these different projects, Joe Biden thinks that his will to transcend the lines of political demarcation is the only solution: “Unity is not a chimera, it is a practical step to do what we have to. to do together, for the country ”.
For Mary Stuckey, the duo are “on a razor’s edge: they will advance between great opportunities and many dangers”.
She warns, however, against the temptation to consider Joe Biden as a providential figure: “This country is obsessed with its presidents, they are seen as saviors”, but we must not forget “that they do not control everything, far of the”.