If Biden Wins, He’ll Have to Put the World Back TogetherBreaking News
tags: economic history, Joe Biden, 2020 Election, COVID-19
If Joe Biden wins the election in November, he will likely be sworn in—perhaps virtually—under the most challenging circumstances since Harry Truman became president in 1945. The country will probably be in the end stages of a brutal pandemic and faced with the worst economy since the Great Depression. The Treasury will be significantly depleted. Millions of people will have lost loved ones, their jobs, much of their net worth. Hopefully a vaccine or an effective treatment will be closer to reality, and our national attention can shift to what comes next.
We judge our great presidents by how they managed harrowing trials and wars: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War; Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Depression, followed by World War II; Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. But many of the bigger and less historically rewarding challenges are what come immediately after—how to rebuild and remake the country and engage in the wider world. Think about Ulysses S. Grant and Reconstruction, Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, Truman and the architecture to wage the Cold War, George H. W. Bush and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some failed; others succeeded. All faced enormous obstacles explaining what just happened, what had changed, and how we must adapt. This is the category of presidency that Biden, or Donald Trump if he is reelected, will find himself in.
If Trump wins, the country can expect more of what we have seen in the initial phase of dealing with COVID-19—shifting the economic and health burden to the states and Congress, a lack of interest in international cooperation, and a refusal to critically scrutinize the response.
But what about Biden? The beginning of his presidency will have a unique logic and character that sets it apart from the early stages of the crisis. His first year will be shaped in various measures by the public reaction to the horrors of 2020, the national Rorschach test of seeing Trump’s silhouette finally from a remove, and a dawning reality of exceedingly difficult choices across the board.
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