Inauguration 2021

President Biden, inaugurated today, faces unprecedented challenges – not just a pandemic and rising inequality, but increased threats to the rule of law and the United States’ system of representative democracy. We asked a few members of the Harris faculty what they think President Biden should focus on as he begins his term in office.

For more insight into the challenges facing American politics, be sure to subscribe to Not Another Politics Podcast, hosted by Professors William Howell and Anthony Fowler and Associate Professor Wioletta Dziuda.

Professor Roger Myerson: Don’t forget your pledge

Professor Roger Myerson

In his victory speech on November 7, 2020, newly minted President-elect Joe Biden declared, “I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me — as those who did.”

I hope President Biden takes this pledge to heart. While Biden’s campaign emphasized purple states and those in the center, President Biden now will face the difficult task of reaching those on the right who not only did not vote for him, but who never considered doing so. The divisive Trump years left many of them suspicious of him. Some are even hostile, doubting his legitimacy as president, as we saw with the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month.

President Biden needs a team that will focus on the red states – visiting them, talking with people, and listening to their concerns. Otherwise, the healing may not be possible.

Professor William Howell: The populist base remains

Professor William Howell

Professor Howell is writing with Professor Terry M. Moe of Stanford, the coauthor of Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy, now available from the University of Chicago Press.

With Joe Biden’s election, our nation averted catastrophe. Four more years of Donald Trump’s populist authoritarian rule could have destroyed American democracy. What we’ve won, however, is merely a reprieve. The nation’s crisis of democracy continues, as the recent mob attack on Congress makes clear. The Biden administration must recognize this crisis for what it is and take calculated actions to mitigate it.

Mr. Trump has lost the presidency. But his populist base and its anti-system anger are not going away, and they remain a mortal threat to democracy. Mr. Biden’s challenge is to address the sources of this threat by making government work for these people – and for everybody.

Mr. Biden’s first year in office must be more than a restoration of civility and normalcy. America remains in crisis. He needs to see himself as playing a pivotal role in American history: the savior of our democracy.

For the full article by Howell and Moe, go to the Christian Science Monitor.

Professor Anthony Fowler: Stay in the middle

Professor Anthony Fowler

If I could give President Biden a bit of advice, I’d say this: Don’t listen too much to the extreme positions that are common among politicians, party insiders, political staffers, journalists, protesters, and the loudest voices on social media. That’s not what the American people want.

Research suggests that most of the American public is ideologically moderate and not especially partisan (see here and here for two of my working papers). Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Americans do not believe the election was stolen – nor do they support defunding the police, the Green New Deal, or racial preferences in hiring and college admissions.

Biden was likely nominated and elected largely because he is ideologically moderate relative to other prominent politicians. If he wants to do a good job representing the public, he should look to implement sensible, moderate policies.

Assistant Professor Daniel Moskowitz: Thousands of lives are at stake

Assistant Professor Daniel Moskowitz

The Biden administration will have much to deal with during the first 100 days. By all accounts, the transition process has been anything but smooth due to obstruction from the outgoing administration.

At the same time, the Biden administration is inheriting the worst public health crisis in at least a century. This crisis has resulted in mass suffering and death, as well as widespread economic hardship that is especially concentrated at the bottom of the income distribution. The Biden administration will likely be very focused on expediting vaccine production and distribution as well as delivering a COVID-19 relief package. Given the prevalence of the virus, the difficulties in scaling up a vaccine program, and the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, these are sensible priorities.

Unfortunately, delivering vaccines and economic relief may prove difficult. The relief package will require the Congress to pass legislation, but swift action is highly unlikely. The new Congress is closely divided and highly polarized, making smooth cooperation uncertain. Moreover, the Senate will likely be spending the early days of the administration holding Trump’s second impeachment trial and confirming Biden’s cabinet (in the past, the Senate has held confirmation hearings further in advance of a new administration). While Biden can take executive action, including invoking the Defense Production Act, to try to ramp up vaccine production and distribution, it is unclear the extent to which these efforts will be hampered by not having his full team in place and instead having to rely on acting agency heads. With the pandemic likely to worsen as variants of the virus with increased transmissibility become more prevalent, it is difficult to overstate the importance of these first 100 days: thousands and thousands of American lives are at stake