President-elect Joseph R. Biden and his team are facing a mammoth and complex challenge. Immediate attention is demanded by a multitude of issues, each with a horde of advocates and an equal number of detractors: Covid 19, healthcare, education, endemic racism, a plummeting economy, our decaying infrastructure, and dangerously ruptured international relationships.
Add to this toxic mix a citizenry that is economically, politically, and socially fractured, and an already-unleashed assault from Republicans aimed at obstructing the Biden administration plans for transition, healing and progress. Sadly, the Republican focus is clearly on the 2022 and 2024 elections rather than on defeating the pandemic, restoring the economy, or the general betterment of the American people. Their goal is clear: keep Biden and the Democrats from succeeding by blocking or slowing down every appointment and every initiative, thus increasing the pain and frustration of the people.
They hope to enhance their own power by turning the nation against a Democratic president and House–––just as they did by blocking Obama initiatives after the 2008 election, and in their 2010 assault on the Affordable Care Act. The political logic behind their actions might be effective, but their patriotism and ethics are in the sewar.
A Daunting Task
So, Biden is faced with a daunting and multifarious task with a strong headwind of opposition before he even starts. The president-elect made a commitment to the American people to restore the soul of America, to build back a better, stronger and more vital nation. The first step on the road to this new future is the transition to a new president, work that should set the stage for a quick and efficient beginning of the incoming administration.
Presidential transitions are usually treated by outgoing administrations as their sacred duty to ensure that the new team can hit the ground running and keep the nation safe. But the Biden transition is faced with a coordinated attack by the Trump team and his allied Senators. This attack is aimed at disruption and delay, with the goal of a disrupted and delayed beginning on inauguration day.
Couple this with the fact that the outgoing president and his Republican henchmen are working full time to stoke anger and fear among their supporters. In doing so they are encouraging a level of violence that has resulted in armed protestors stalking election officials’ homes, and death threats aimed at anyone in authority who acknowledges Biden’s victory. Again, the purpose seems to be to damage the credibility of the Biden administration, and thus limit the ability of the new president before he even takes office.
Transitions are Hard Work
Transitions in the best of times are difficult. There are 4,000 political personnel appointments to make, and approximately 1200 of them require Senate confirmation. The day-to-day work of government (the work required to build a stronger nation) is in the hands of the 2.1 million people who are scattered across the country and around the world as part of the federal work force. The focus, tone and oversight of their labor is the responsibility of those 4,000 appointed leaders. It is their job to ensure that the commitments a new president made to the American people become programs, laws and regulations.
This always requires negotiation and compromise with members of Congress, local officials, interest groups and international leaders. The responsibility of the transition is to put all of this in motion, to prepare the stage so that the work––particularly the work requiring urgent action–– can begin on January 20.
Our first job as citizens is to pay attention. The president, his appointments, the Senators and House members work for us. We put them in office and we can take them out. We need to ensure that they are not listening to or speaking nonsense, and that they are working for the common good rather than to enhance their own power or personal agendas. I accept that many will have ideologies different from mine, and the work of a democracy is for people with differing approaches to join together in search of compromise and common ground.
We Have a Part to Play
Our job requires that we participate in that work while honoring the differences. This is hard to do when the people on the other side reject compromise and believe that their primary responsibility is obstruction and destruction. But we must be prepared to do our part. People of good will and democratic ideals must be engaged and we must demand from our elected leaders that they speak the truth and practice the politics of consensus. It will not be easy, but it is necessary.
We can learn a good lesson from a commentary in the Wisdom of the Jewish Sages: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
To learn more about erecting pillars for a new America I commend to you the latest post on Bill Clontz’s blog, Agents of Reason.
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.