Many of my colleagues on the political left are up in arms about President Elect Biden’s staffing decisions. They see too many moderates and too many re-runs from the Obama and Clinton years. Some lament that their favorite friend didn’t get the job he or she wanted, others fret that the team is too old and too moderate.
While some of the criticism is factually true, most is not functionally well grounded. Pause to consider that Biden is inheriting a dispirited and divided nation, a nation that has experienced an erosion of its integrity and seen core democratic principles discarded. Likewise, the federal government employees he will be leading have spent four years trying to do their jobs in an atmosphere of hostility and with incompetent leadership. They, too, are demoralized and understandably skeptical about appointed political leadership.
In a December Atlantic article, George Packer clearly spelled out the Trump legacy: 300,000 Americans are dead from the Covid-19 pandemic and more than 2,000 are dying each day; millions of Americans have lost their jobs, are suffering from hunger and in danger of losing their homes. During the Trump years the United States has withdrawn from 13 international organizations, agreements and treaties. Undocumented immigrant parents have been arbitrarily separated from their children, and now there are more than 600 of those children in the United States whose parents were deported and cannot be located.
Trump Appointed 220 Judges
Further, Trump appointed and the Republican Senate confirmed 220 conservative judges, 75% of whom are men, only four percent are African American, and several received an “unqualified” rating by the American Bar Association. The president’s only major legislation was his tax bill, which brought the tax rate of the wealthiest Americans below that of every other income group.
Packer pointed out that much of the president’s support among the populace was built on the foundation of 25,000 lies and misleading statements, which poisoned the political and social atmosphere and contaminated too many American minds. His lies about fraud in voting discredited American democracy at home and abroad. Trump’s baseless ranting about “fake media” created hostility and suspicion towards traditional news sources that have long maintained high standards of rigorous fact checking and truth telling.
For four tumultuous years the work scientists and professional career government officials in areas such as climate change, healthcare, justice, and national security was trashed as “deep state” thinking and these professionals became the enemies of Trump’s followers. He encouraged violence as armed thugs gathered around statehouses, city halls and the homes of government officials who dared to correct a Trump lie. Government professionals who raised concerns about the president’s misleading statements were either fired or (as in the recent cases involving the Department of Justice) resigned.
Lemmings Marching Toward the Cliff
A majority of Republican Senators and House members have stood firmly behind the Trump attempts to besmirch American democracy. For weeks they refused to acknowledge the Biden victory, blocked the transition, and supported the president’s absurd claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent and should be overturned.
During the last four years the Republican party has moved from being a viable governing body to an outlier that is loyal not to America’s founding principles, but to their principal and singular leader. They are paralyzed by fear of retribution from him if they do not adhere precisely to his misleading edicts.
This is the arena that Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will enter on January 20. There is a long list of urgent “Day One” tasks awaiting him, but first and foremost is the restoration of a credible federal government. This will require a team of competent and experienced professionals, people who do not have a learning curve to master.
Take a deep look at the experience of the team Biden has assembled. Many are veterans of previous administrations, women and men who have previously worked together and who know where the levers of power are in each federal department. They have learned through both victories and setbacks how to work with difficult legislative bodies and interest groups. They trust one another and are trusted by the president. Moreover, they are competent, and they will attract competent professionals back to government service.
Tough but Doable Job Ahead
Major initiatives ranging from defeating the pandemic, revitalizing the economy, improving healthcare, combating climate change, repairing and replacing physical infrastructure, ensuring equal access to a high-quality education system, confronting economic and social inequality, and engaging racism at all levels of American society depend on the restoration of a government that is competent and trusted by the people.
My personal social and political leanings are significantly to the left. But, I am pragmatic enough to understand that if we hope (and I do) to enact an extensive progressive agenda we must first build back a better and stronger governmental infrastructure. We need to the replenish the workforce with bright minds and a dedicated commitment to public service. I believe that the Biden team will be able to get that job done, and the rest will follow.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.