Joe Biden won the White House. Now what?

Six opinion writers on what Biden's win may mean for climate, the economy, LGBTQ rights, political parties and more.

kamala harris and joe biden

President-elect Joe Biden, right, on stage with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, left, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Our Century's FDR?

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Pedestrians pass the New York Stock Exchange, Oct. 14, 2020, in New York. Joe Biden will once again be coming into the White House amid one of the worst recessions in modern history. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

The last time Joe Biden set up office in the White House it was 2009. The country was in the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s

The Obama-Biden administration’s $800 billion stimulus package passed that February. It was big and it helped, but it wasn’t big enough, and not enough of it reached the people who were losing their jobs and whose homes were in foreclosure. Instead of a second round of stimulus, what the country got the following year was austerity: cuts that stunted the recovery and left scars that never fully healed.

Twelve years later, here we are again. Another slump, again the worst since the Great Depression, this time brought on by a deadly virus that still rages. Now Joe is in charge, with Kamala Harris his vice president.

Will Biden rise to the occasion and become our century’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Will a Biden-Harris administration initiate ambitious new social programs, perhaps even a guaranteed income? Will it pioneer a new New Deal — a green one this time? Will it send a flood of aid to state and local governments? Will it fulfill Biden’s campaign promises to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and pass laws that strengthen unions and make it easier for workers to organize?

Or will it be a replay of the Great Recession? Business as usual.

The strong possibility of continued Republican control of the Senate and the narrowing of the Democrats’ House majority don’t bode well for transformative change. Perhaps Biden himself is willing to be pushed left, even eager to step into FDR’s shoes, but the results of this election feel far from a mandate for that. Unless the Georgia stars align in January, my bet for at least the next two years — until the Democrats have a chance to turn it around in the midterms — is that progressives are in for a lot of unsatisfying compromises. 

One more scenario that could shake things up: further economic collapse. This is not far-fetched, even if COVID-19 is brought under control. If it happens, it could spark overwhelming public demands for action, perhaps even the kind of mass organizing and strikes that spurred the transformations of the 1930s. Time will tell. —Katie Wilson


A Life Raft for LBGTQ Rights

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Aubrey Thomas of Dykes on Bikes leads an LGBTQ Pride march over a rainbow-painted crosswalk June 27, 2020, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

For LGBTQ people, a Joe Biden presidency without a Senate majority would be like a life buoy that’s not attached to a boat. A President Biden can undo many of the Trump administration’s executive actions, like the transgender military ban, and restore Obama-era protections, like an administrative rule that protected LGBTQ people from health care discrimination. Biden can keep us from going underwater, but he might not be able to take us anywhere.

Unless Democrats can pull off a double-runoff Senate victory in Georgia, more substantive progress will be off the table: The Equality Act, which would bar anti-LGBTQ discrimination nationwide, will not make it past Sen. Mitch McConnell, nor would a federal ban on the practice of conversion therapy. States like Washington, which protect LGBTQ people not just in employment, but in areas like housing and public accommodations, will still be sharply contrasted with the American South, where queer people are more legally vulnerable.

But as one of the 342,000 LGBTQ people who call the Evergreen State home, I would warn that we are far from immune to the effects of a Biden-McConnell deadlock. A conservative Supreme Court could easily hack away at LGBTQ protections, and Biden wouldn’t be able to leverage Congress to counteract the judiciary. The groundwork for that process is already being laid: While all eyes were on the ballot counts this week, the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in a case about discrimination in foster care — and, as Reuters reported, the conservative justices “appeared sympathetic” to the anti-LGBTQ argument. Washingtonians could fall under the purview of these decisions, depending on how sweeping the eventual rulings might be. My comfort now is that it could be worse: Trump plus McConnell plus a conservative SCOTUS would be like not getting thrown a life preserver at all. So even though the future of LGBTQ rights now hinges on two Senate races in Georgia, we have no choice but to cling to those odds. —Samantha Allen


Overcoming the Moderate Democrat

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Achieving true justice in America requires holding moderate Democrats to a higher standard, writes Lola Peters. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Amuse-bouche” is a French phrase that literally means a treat for the mouth. It’s a fine-dining restaurant term for a single-bite appetizer, often intended to cleanse your palate in preparation for the meal to come. The Biden-Harris administration is our political amuse-bouche. For the next four years it will help rid the bitter taste of failed autocracy from our mouths. Meanwhile, in political kitchens around the country, including here in Washington state, the work of creating a more palatable politics must get underway.

To do so, we must act with urgency. Millions of white people have protested the videotaped murder of Black and brown men and women. Yet a large percentage of those same people support “moderate” politicians, like the president- and vice president-elect, who preach a slow, deliberate pace of change. They will point to the impact of social programs and progressive policy on the economy or make other excuses as justification to disregard the impact of this incremental approach on oppressed people’s lives.

There is a long history here. Ibram X. Kendi, in Stamped From the Beginning, distinguishes three archetype responses white people had to slavery: Antiracists truly believed in equity and were willing to risk their reputations and lives to fight for it. Segregationists believed people of African descent were animals requiring stern and, where necessary, violent ruling by white masters. Assimilationists, meanwhile, opposed abusing people of African descent, but also believed those same people were innately inferior mentally and morally, and therefore had to be guided by the firm and disciplined hands of whites.

Many moderates in Washington state’s Democratic Party exist in a version of this “assimilationist” category. They benevolently acknowledge, maybe even want to alleviate, the suffering of Black and brown people, without taking the risks or making the changes to create true equity.

It’s time for everyone who has been marching in the streets to show up at precinct meetings, learn the Democratic Party’s inner parlance and governing rules, and intentionally arrest the party’s further slide into neoliberalism. Otherwise that sour taste of oppression will prevail. The party must hold the moderate voices of Biden and Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee and Jenny Durkan to an antiracist standard. Only then can we begin to actively remove the political, cultural and social policies and practices that are barriers to equity. Bon appétit. —Lola E. Peters


Only Up From Here for State Republicans

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Republicans need a leader with the populist allure of Loren Culp who can also appeal to the suburbs, writes John Carlson. (Jason Redmond for Crosscut)

Who says democracy doesn’t work? A divided country has delivered a divided government. American voters narrowly pink-slipped their bombastic populist president, but largely upheld his policies. Congressional Democrats expected 10 to 20 new House seats. Instead they lost half a dozen, and may lose 10 when the counting is done. Polling experts gave Democrats a 76% chance of netting three or four seats to win control of the U.S. Senate. They netted one. What about that heavily financed effort to win control of state legislative bodies in time to redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries? Of the 99 legislative state chambers in America, the Democrats, as of Saturday, have flipped zero.

But Washington state? No divided government here. Of Washington’s nine statewide offices, Republicans had two. Now they have one, Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Instead of losing seats in the state House, Democrats won a couple. And they will maintain their comfortable majority in the state Senate.

Where does that leave Washington Republicans? Starting from scratch, without Donald Trump hovering overhead. Republicans should do what they should have done a couple years ago: develop a policy agenda that gives them a distinct identity, regardless of what’s happening in D.C. Dan Evans did that in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It mostly worked. Who can lead such a parade? I don’t know who, but I know how: Someone must appeal to working class voters who were motivated by Loren Culp (who ran almost five points ahead of Trump), and simultaneously appeal to the suburbs, where both men tanked.

The Democrats, ironically, will help them. With an open field to run on, they will go too far, as they’ve done with big majorities in the past. Republicans will be able to play off those extremes, and respond with an agenda that unites their party and appeals to independents and moderate Democrats. Here’s where to start: tax relief, education reform, lower car-tab fees and mandatory jail terms for crimes committed during a declared riot, including a six-month mandatory term for assaulting a police officer. Run them as ballot measures when Olympia blocks them.

It can’t get worse for Washington state Republicans than it is right now. Which means it’s about to get better. —John Carlson


A Bipartisan Balm for Climate Change?

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Elwha River, where the Elwha River Dam once stood, in Olympic National Park of Washington state. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

In 2020, it seems nothing can bridge the gap between conservatives and liberals. But as the dust settles after the presidential election, there’s one issue Washingtonians can agree on: protecting the environment.

Earlier this year, a KING 5 poll showed that 77% of Washingtonians were concerned about climate change. Despite that overwhelming number, not nearly enough has been done at the state level to solve our most important environmental problems. Carbon emissions are rising statewide, the orca population is struggling, and King County is dumping raw sewage into Puget Sound.

This must change — quickly. Washington leaders need to shift the dialogue from meaningless talking points to meaningful strategies that actually benefit the environment. Absent effective government action on climate, a market-based approach that leans on the voices of all Washingtonians, not just environmentalists like myself, is already helping us get there. Whether it’s the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe (Olympic Coast) growing its economy and restoring the salmon population through investments in local conservation efforts, Microsoft finding effective ways to reach carbon negativity by 2030 or Vaagen Timbers (Colville) leading the movement toward sustainable cross-laminated timber, we have many scalable examples of local environmental leadership.

To replicate these solutions in Olympia, we need a local version of the American Climate Contract. This national plan, a market-based alternative to the Green New Deal, is supported on the right and the left. It pushes for investment in our nation’s infrastructure, prioritizes energy innovation (to lower emissions in all energy industries) and embraces natural solutions like planting trees, managing forests, restoring wetlands and collaborating with the agricultural industry to lower its environmental impact.

On the national level, a Biden administration and Republican-controlled Senate could bode well for climate action. For the first time in years, both parties will need to sit down and find commonsense solutions. With the national GOP increasingly willing to embrace climate solutions, Washingtonians can work with bipartisan leaders like Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Derek Kilmer and Maria Cantwell to get this done.

If Gov. Jay Inslee and state legislators want to take the issue of climate change seriously, they’ll represent the 77% of Washingtonians who are concerned about climate change, work across the aisle and make meaningful environmental strides for the sake of Washington and our globe’s future. —Benji Backer


A Path Toward Healing

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Healing our past wrongs must begin with a thorough accounting of transgressions committed by the Trump administration, write Fawn Sharp and Mathew Randazzo V. (Evan Vucci/AP)

It is an existential necessity that America finally face its darkest truths and reconcile ourselves to our core values. 

As Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic amply proved, we cannot treat a disease we refuse to acknowledge. Through a reckless disregard for the truth, we become complicit in its spread.

The 574 Tribal Nations that have experienced four centuries of trauma, genocide, rape and pillage will no longer accept lip service. Likewise, we must relieve Black Americans of the trauma of living in a hostile civic society defined by arbitrary state violence, mass imprisonment, systematic voter disenfranchisement and the multigenerational deprivation of resources from their communities.

America must draw the line with this generation to finally confront and remediate past and present wrongs — starting with a thorough and honest accounting of the Trump administration’s transgressions. 

We can’t let this essential work be sabotaged or shortchanged by the Washington, D.C., establishment’s self-immunization from accountability. We either establish a precedent for accountability that was lacking after Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Iraq War and the 2008 economic crisis, or risk inviting a more authoritarian and lawless counterattack.

The Biden-Harris administration must take a full-court press approach and utilize every investigatory and disciplinary tool available to the federal government to reveal the truth, devise effective solutions, bring the corrupt to justice and restore the constitutional balance between the three branches of government.

We need presidential truth and reconciliation commissions on the systemic abuses that Native Americans, African Americans and Latin American migrants all face; congressional select committees to provide a comprehensive overhaul of the laws restraining executive overreach, police violence and carbon pollution; and gloves-off inspector general and criminal investigations into the flagrant abuses of the Trump administration and its corporate accomplices.

Truth and reconciliation are not simply a racial matter. Working-class white families are also economically and politically disenfranchised by the inhuman corporate machinery that controls our institutions and toxifies our lands and food, preventing vastly popular reforms like Medicare for All, drug decriminalization, law enforcement violence de-escalation strategies and action on climate change from gaining national momentum.

The Biden-Harris administration offers hope that the executive branch will at least consider bold reforms. But passing the type of drastic legislation necessary to put this republic on a sustainable path will require the mass organization and activation of the public at large. 

Our society and governments can no longer serve the Dow Jones Industrial Average instead of the life, liberty and happiness of its citizens or the indispensable health of our ecosystems.

We are the ancestors of future generations.

We cannot leave them a sick, fatally flawed society.

To heal our country we must be courageous, and boldly confront generations of injustice and exploitation. —Fawn Sharp & Mathew Randazzo V

About the Authors & Contributors