” Life will return to normality,” promised Joe Biden on Thursday in a speech of thanks to the nation. He spoke about life after Covid-13, but you could be forgiven for thinking that he also made a promise about life after Trump.
It is nearly impossible to separate the two. To the extent that the voters gave Biden a mandate, it should end both scourges and let America return to normal.
Notwithstanding Covid’s gloomy resurgence, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the public health official who Trump ignored and now muzzled by Biden’s associate, sounded cautiously optimistic last week. Vaccines will “allow a gradual increase in normality over the weeks and months until well into 2021.
Normal. You could almost hear America’s huge sigh of relief, similar to how you felt when Trump tacitly accepted the election by allowing the transition to begin.
It is comforting to see both Covid and Trump as inroads into normality, as deviations from the routines that prevailed before.
When Biden entered the presidential race last year, he said history would look back on Trump as an “anomalous moment in time.
The end of both derailments is conjured up by a former America that, by contrast, may seem calm and safe, even boring.
Trump called Biden “the most boring person I have ever seen”, and the Americans seem to be coping quite well with that.
Biden’s early decisions for his Cabinet and senior staff fit the same mold – “boring picks,” twittered Graeme Wood of The Atlantic (who referred to Biden’s foreign policy team), “who, if shaken up and appointed in the middle of the night at any point during the last decade, could have been on their new jobs until dawn and started work competently. Hallelujah.
All of his Designees, including Janet Yellen for the Treasury Department and Anthony Blinken for the Secretary of State, are experienced and competent – especially after Trump’s gorilla commands. And they are acceptable to both mainstream Democrats and progressives.
They are also distinguished by their ability to blend in. There is no hothead among them, no Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders (at least not until now).
For the same reasons it is unlikely that they will provoke strong opposition among the Republicans, a necessity for confirmation by the Senate, especially if the Democrats do not win the two runoff elections in the Senate in Georgia on January 5.
And it is unlikely that they will demand much attention from an exhausted and divided public.
Boring, reassuring, normal – these are the great strengths of Biden. But he must be careful. They could also be his great weaknesses.
Because any return to “normality” would be catastrophic for America.
Normal led to Trumpf. Normal led to coronavirus.
Normal is four decades of stagnant wages and growing inequality, during which almost all economic gains went up. Normal is forty years of torn safety nets and the most expensive but least adequate health care system in the modern world.
Normal is also the growing corruption of politics by the big money-an economic system manipulated by and for the wealthy.
Normal is the intensification of police brutality.
Normal is climate change, which now borders on disaster.
Normal is a GOP that has been actively suppressing minority voices and embracing white racists for years. Normal is a Democratic Party that has been abandoning the working class for years.
Given the path we were on, Trump and Covid were not derailers. They were inevitable. The moment we find ourselves in now – Trump has practically disappeared, Biden is putting together his cabinet, and most of the nation is beginning to feel a little relieved – is a temporary reprieve.
If the basic trends do not change, we could have Trump after Biden as far as the eye can see. And health and environmental crises that make the coronavirus another step towards Armageddon.
Hence the paradox. America wants to return to a reassuring normality, but Biden cannot allow that to happen. Indifference would be fatal. He must both calm the water and stir the pot.
It is a mistake to see this challenge as appeasing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It is about dealing with problems that have been worsening for decades and that, if ignored for much longer, will be enormously destructive.
Hence the central question: In an exhausted and divided America desperately wanting a return to normality, can Biden summon up the energy and political will for bold changes that are essential?
Robert B. Reich is an American political commentator, professor and author. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Reich’s latest book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, has been published.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.