A New Hope: What Biden/Harris's America Looks Like in 2021

A functional federal government, not seen here in years, tackles the pandemic.

HOPE was a major theme in the campaigns of the last two Democrats elected President. In 1992, Bill Clinton told us that he still believed in “a place called Hope,” a reference to both his Arkansas hometown and his faith in the country. Sixteen years later, the iconic HOPE poster, designed by the artist Shepard Fairey, became a centerpiece of Barack Obama’s campaign. With Bill and Barack, “hope” was an article of faith, a suggestion that these charismatic men, neither of them battle-tested, both of them more potential than known commodity, would fulfill their enormous promise.

After 47 years in public service, including eight as Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden is no mystery. We know exactly what we’re getting with him: a compassionate, decent fellow; a seasoned hand at the controls; a Democratic All-Star team in the Administration—and, if the polls bear out, both houses of Congress on his side for at least the next two years. And yet hope is once again central to the campaign, even if it’s not explicitly stated. We hope that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris can save the country from the pandemic, from economic collapse, from internal division, from a bastardized Supreme Court, from dark money, from organized crime, from ecological catastrophe. (In the Trump White House, by contrast, Hope is nothing more than the name of the feckless aide who infected the President with covid-19).

I can’t forecast a perfect presidency for Biden. He will make mistakes. He will disappoint us, as all presidents do. But with regard to the pandemic, I am confident that the incoming Administration will swiftly bring it under control.

At noon on January 20, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. At that moment, the country will once again have a functional federal government—a luxury that, if it existed at all these last four years, we have not enjoyed since John Kelly stepped down as Chief of Staff.

Immediately, the change will be apparent. What has been a motley, disorganized response to the pandemic—50 governors left to their own devices, basically, with results ranging from smart/effective (Andrew Cuomo’s New York, the safest big state in the country) to MAGA/catastrophic (Ron DeSantis’ Florida or Kristi Noem’s South Dakota)—will suddenly be managed by a single centralized government. Ron Klain, the likely Chief of Staff, has seen this movie before: he ran the ebola response under Obama. He won’t simply give up, like the current Chief of Staff has.

Where there was chaos, there will be order. Right off the bat, there will be a federal mask mandate. There will be testing. There will be contact tracing. There will be accurate numbers provided by the CDC, not whatever bullshit Michael Caputo fed us. There will be daily reports from Klain, or whoever is running the pandemic response team, and from doctors and scientists. An unmuzzled Anthony Fauci will once again grace our TV screens. And when the vaccine is ready to roll out, it will be managed by professionals who actually know what the fuck they’re doing, not Jared Kushner’s old roommate or whatever. In short, we will be able to trust the government once again.

We have not had a functional federal government for so long—and we’ve internalized Ronald Reagan’s beyond idiotic “government is the problem” mantra—that we’ve forgotten how awesome, in every sense of the word, the USG can be. The impact will be immediate and obvious, the improvement marked and undeniable.

This is not to say the sailing will be perfectly smooth. The infection numbers are rising, and the unholy trinity of Trump, Pence, and Kushner may see half a million dead on their watch. Drastic efforts may be required. It may be that we have to shut down again. But this time, there will be an actual plan, and it will work. Because Biden and the Democrats understand that, as Pete Buttigieg phrased it, “The first rule of economics during a pandemic is you’ve got to fix the pandemic before the economy can get better.” If Mitch McConnell survives the election (and whatever ailment is turning his necrotic hands purple), he will no longer be the Majority Leader, and will be powerless to stop the Democrats from passing a proper aid package.

This is what I hope—nay, what I fully believe—will happen: By the time the cherry blossoms are in bloom in Washington, it will be obvious that things are getting better with the novel coronavirus—that the situation is under control, that the government has the capability to contain what outbreaks pop up, that the vaccine is ready. By the summer, life will slowly but surely return to normal. Schools will reopen—for real, none of this hybrid nonsense—as will restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, sports arenas, all of it. There will be weddings again, and funerals. We’ll be able to hug each other again, to shake hands, to see each other smile.

And because human beings have the magical ability to adapt, and to quickly forget the uneasy times, we’ll move on to other things. By this time next year, the pandemic will feel like a bad dream. By next Christmas, most of us will remember it like this: “Trump was president and everyone was sick and dying, and then Biden took over and it was almost immediately better.” Under Joe and Kamala’s leadership, Trump’s naïve prophesy will appear to come true: “One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

Decades hence, Trump will be remembered mostly for the plague that will bear his name. That, even more than the rampant corruption, will be his legacy. Future students of American history will look at Donald John Trump’s entire term as a galactic mistake, and wonder how anyone thought any of it was a good idea, and marvel at how an otherwise smart, successful nation took such a bad turn.

One week from today, we begin to right the wrong.

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Photo credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President. Ballot Paperwork Signing, Wilmington, Delaware, August 14, 2020.