At the end of The Candidate, Robert Redford, playing Bill McKay, who wins an improbable election, turns to his campaign manager and asks the question, “What do we do now?” For many who spent the last four years obsessed with hating Trump, this isn’t their concern. After all, Trump lost, which was enough. For others, there’s still a nation to deal with, and among a great many concerns, we’re still in an again-increasing pandemic.
So Joe Biden, what do we do now?
In a victory speech on Saturday night, Mr. Biden said he was quickly focusing his attention on the pandemic, including plans on Monday to announce a new task force of coronavirus advisers. But he faces a nation divided over mask rules and business shutdowns, even as experts say the situation may further deteriorate before the new administration takes over in late January.
It’s unfair, in a sense, that an incoming president is saddled with the policies, or lack thereof, of his predecessor. After all, one of the reasons for regime change is that the incumbent failed to do enough to get re-elected, although whether this applies well to Darth Cheeto is dubious. Nonetheless, this is the nature of running for office, taking the responsibility of doing better than one’s predecessor, no matter how badly he screwed things up. If you’re not up for the task, you shouldn’t have run. You asked for the job and got it. Now, do it.
Of course, Biden won’t take office and thus have the actual authority to act until inauguration on January 20th, also known as Eviction Day. We’re likely to face a significant surge during this period.
“I see this as a very precarious moment,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who said that the Trump administration had “basically thrown in the towel” on trying to control the pandemic, while Mr. Biden and his team have nothing to wield but “moral power and social power” until Jan. 20.
“Without significant action,” he said, “the idea that we have another 100,000 deaths by Inauguration Day would be a conservative estimate.”
Whether this will come to pass is unclear, and what will happen to education, the economy and the mental health of a nation similarly remains a mystery. But it’s unlikely to magically get better. Even if a vaccine is approved by then, and even if there are steps to be taken that would ameliorate the problem to some extent, will Trump deal with it?
Will Trump, who has yet to accept the humiliation of being a lame duck, be big enough to put the welfare of a nation ahead of his petty feelings of personal hurt? Never having done so before, it’s hard to imagine a bigger man would suddenly emerge.
But at the same time, Biden ran saying he had a plan.
- A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19; the development of a vaccine; and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities.
- A decisive economic response that starts with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives all necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis.
Putting in the adjective “decisive” isn’t exactly a plan. He’s made clear he wants to “spend whatever it takes, without delay,” but offers nothing more than the basic outline of what was already being done. A nationwide mask mandate has been mentioned often, the authority for which remains a mystery, but is there anything more?
And what in the world does he mean by this?
Make no mistake: this will require an immediate set of ambitious and progressive economic measures, and further decisive action to address the larger macro-economic shock from this outbreak.
One can easily respond by pointing to Trump having given up on dealing with Covid, the followup to his stable genius solutions like swilling Clorox or ingesting random malaria drugs. After all, “herd immunity” sounds like a cool solution, even if it doesn’t play out in reality and only costs the lives of a few million olds to find out. And the fatality rate isn’t as bad as it could be, even if the effects on hearts, lungs and minds will linger for three generations.
The problem with winning an election is when it’s over, you won an election. After the high of ousting Trump, the dancing in the streets as if it was a Rose Garden where no one uttered “superspreader event,” there will be an inevitable hangover. As the days between now and inauguration pass, and Covid infections and consequences rise and return to the front burner of American cognition, the vapid vagaries of the campaign plan need to come into focus.
Biden likely doesn’t actually have a plan, which is why he’s creating a task force to come up with one. On the plus side, this could well mean an actual executable plan to deal with Covid, whatever that means at this point. Or it can mean telling people to wear masks and social distance, which isn’t an entirely new concept or one that’s proven efficacious even among those who have no issue with doing so, but are tired, bored and just can’t manage to do it.
The vaccine is in the works already, as is the effort to manage its distribution, and there’s nothing more to be done for now. We need a stimulus, but what that means remains a “progressive” mystery. It’s not going to be easy for Joe Biden to fulfill his promises, and it’s a fairly good bet that there really isn’t much he can do to make our national response to Covid any more effective, except by offering “moral power and social power.”
But Joe Biden asked to be president and got his wish. It’s now time for him to say what we’re going to do now. Covid won’t wait.