This week, Donald Trump flew away from the White House for the last time and Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States of America. The transition of power comes at a time in American history when the country is more divided than it has ever been, perhaps even more so than 4 years ago when Trump took office. The tasks that lie before Biden are myriad and fraught with danger. That is obvious. What is less obvious is that, no matter how quickly the Democrats would like to move on from the Trump era, the effects of his presidency will linger for months and years to come.
I won’t recount all of the terrible things Trump did during his presidency here – that would take way too long, and frankly, I don’t think anyone is ready to dig through the rubble just yet. I would rather leave the task of sorting through the madness and piecing together what happened to the documentarians. But I think it is worth discussing how Trump left the White House and under what circumstances he left so that we can fully understand the circumstances that greeted Joe Biden when he arrived. The transition of power is always an interesting spectacle, and this year was perhaps the most interesting inauguration in over 100 years.
No discussion of the 2021 inauguration of Joe Biden would be complete without first discussing the attack on the US Capitol building that occurred two weeks beforehand. This event, which has become known, at least colloquially, as the “storming of the capitol,” is so outlandish and without precedent that it is hard to even know where to begin in describing it. But here are the facts that have come to light in the weeks following the event as a more detailed picture has become available.
In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election and following Joe Biden’s victory, Trump and the GOP spread lies and falsehoods about the veracity of the election results. They claimed without evidence that the election was rigged by the Democrats and that a major voter fraud operation had been carried out to steal Trump’s landslide victory from him. Trump and the GOP began spreading these falsehoods months before the election began, having already laid the groundwork for making such accusations after the 2016 election, when Trump claimed that there had been rampant voter fraud during that election, again without evidence. As a result, Trump supporters believed the election was stolen as soon as it was clear that Biden had won and, weeks later, the results were certified. Trump launched dozens of lawsuits, all of which failed to overturn the election results. He even attempted to pressure the Republican governor of Georgia to “find” enough votes for him to win. Trump’s supporters saw all of this as Trump just fighting the good fight even though these efforts were in reality the most serious threats to the American electoral process and democracy since perhaps the civil war. But when all of these efforts failed, Trump’s most loyal supporters realized there was only one last chance to overturn the election results: they had to stop the Senate from certifying the Electoral College votes on January 6th, 2021.
To this end, pro-Trump groups organized one final rally. The rally was held on a grassy field in front of the White House, and thousands of his supporters turned out for the event. Across social media and text messaging apps, those who attended the rally spoke of the event with a sense of finality. “This is it,” said some Trump supporters. “This is our day! Loud and Proud! JOE BIDEN IS NOT NOW, AND WILL NEVER BE [President]!” Thousands echoed this sentiment in various ways using different language, but as they massed on the grass in front of the White House, the message was clear – they were going to do something to “stop the steal.”
Though it wasn’t clear exactly what this would entail, clarity came soon enough. Speaker after speaker riled up the crowd at the rally, until finally, Donald Trump spoke, at one point uttering the now infamous words: “…. we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” he continued, “and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them — because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
The rest, as they say, is history. An angry mob of Trump supporters ransacked the Capitol building, breaking windows and trashing offices. Some found their way into the Senate chambers, missing the legislators themselves, who had evacuated to safe locations in the tunnels beneath the building just a few minutes earlier. Most of us have seen the images of the crowd beating and killing a police officer, desecrating American icons, and carrying the Confederate flag through the congress building for the first time in history. All of this was done by confused people who thought they were defending democracy when in fact they were trampling upon it.
So far, nearly 20% of the people facing charges for their role in the riots have been found to have some sort of military background. There are also accusations that certain lawmakers in Congress facilitated the mob by giving them tours of the Capitol in the days before. Whether you consider the events an attempted coup or simply an insurrectionary mob, the fact of the matter is this: the implications for American democracy are dark, especially considering that things could have turned out far worse. If the mob had successfully found lawmakers or had managed to destroy the Electoral College vote certifications, we might be in a much deeper national crisis. This was simply too close of a call.
In the two weeks after the Capitol was sacked, Trump was swiftly impeached by the House, and Twitter banned his account as well as thousands of Qanon accounts. Other social media and tech companies followed suit, removing right-wing extremists and conspiracy groups from their platforms. Amazon brought down the controversial social media platform Parlor, which had been infested by right-wing extremists, by shutting down its servers. In the last days of Trump’s presidency, Qanon followers and Trump supporters held out hope that he would successfully subvert the election by some miracle. Instead, Biden’s inauguration went off without a hitch, and Trump abandoned his lost and desperate followers. Many Qanon followers still cling to hope, and some will never lose faith. Indeed, many Republicans in general who are less extreme but still devoted to Trump feel angry and lost at the end of the administration.
Because of the way Trump left the White House, with Congress under siege and the nation more bitterly divided than ever, he will haunt our nation for years to come. In some ways, the dawn of the Biden administration is really a return to the potent and toxic dynamics of the Obama era, in which rural right-wingers felt left behind by liberal city-dwellers. Trump did little to help rural people, though they may think he did, and indeed many of their problems have only deepened in the past 4 years. Biden is inheriting an Obama-style political divide that has had gasoline thrown on it by Trumpian populism and a resurgent Left. On top of this, Trump’s utter failure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and climate change means that Biden is entering the White House at a time when the nation is weak and trending toward economic and political destruction. The new president certainly has his work cut out for him.
Thankfully, Biden’s first few days have gone surprisingly well. On his first day in office, he rejoined the Paris climate agreement, canceled Trump’s inane travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries, and halted disastrous environmental deregulations, including the construction of the Keystone pipeline. Biden also removed the head of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Robb, and his second in command, Alice Stock, who together were responsible for trashing labor policy and setting back union relations for years. He has also released a comprehensive plan for bringing the pandemic under control, prompting a thus-far-unseen smile from Dr. Anthony Fauci. Biden has done many other things already in just a few days that were very low hanging fruit from the Left’s perspective, but still worth celebrating. He might even procure another round of relief checks for consumers and businesses from Congress.
It is too early to make any definitive claims about the Biden administration, but things are looking good so far. The bar is quite low after the last 4 years, but Biden is – thankfully – easily stepping over it. If Biden successfully brings the pandemic under control and charts a Rooseveltian course through the next year, he may very well go down as one of the greatest presidents in American history.
If Biden can at least survive for a full term and live up to even half of his potential as a healer and political uniter, he may even surpass the legacies of his liberal predecessors. It was a rough transition for the nation, but there are reasons to be hopeful now that we have made it to the other side of the inauguration. On that note, with Trump in the rearview mirror, I say goodbye Trump, and hello Biden.