Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was inaugurated as the 46th president of the US on 21st January 2021 and after the tumultuous 4 years of Donald Trump he brought his three-decade senate experience and 8 years of Vice Presidency experience with him. He would need all his experience as he inherited a divided America from his predecessor and during his campaign Biden promised to restore faith in America’s democracy and repair America’s global image.
In his inaugural speech he laid out his vision to unite the nation, a nation that was suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic that led to economic strife. President Biden looked to immediately reset the tone from the Trump presidency which consisted of insults, firings and rapid tweets. In many ways he brought the dullness back to the presidency with predictability and quietness, even admitting his speech in Crystal Lake, Illinois on 7 July 2021: “I know that’s a boring speech.”
In his first 100 days the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill was passed and the milestone of 200 million coronavirus shots was achieved. The Bill formed part of Biden’s economic response which saw an expansion in the government’s role in American public life. “That was arguably one of his main jobs as president – to start getting this pandemic under control,” said Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s not fully under control yet, but it is clearly in much better shape than it would have been had this incredible vaccination effort not happened.”
But as the first 100 days passed the reality of the American system crept in
But as the first 100 days passed the reality of the American system crept in. Biden’s build-back-better investment infrastructure Bill was split into two Bills and got stuck in the nation’s political machinery that required many compromises if it was to pass. The package became two infrastructure bills – a $1 trillion package aimed at physical infrastructure, the other, a $3.5 trillion package that encompasses social spending. The divide was not just from the republicans but from within the democrats with senators taking the position they would only support the large Bill once the smaller one was passed. The infrastructure Bill was passed in November, but the damage to Biden’s presidency was already done.
The reforms on gun safety, immigration and police brutality all stalled. Legislation to expand voting rights and reduce the influence of money in politics and a bipartisan commission to investigate the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol, were torpedoed by Republicans using a Senate procedural rule known as the filibuster. President Biden ran an election campaign that he would restore confidence in democracy after the Trump era that ended with the attack on capitol Hill, but by the end of Biden’s first year his domestic agenda and position had hit rock bottom.
President Biden had his hands full on the foreign policy front when he took over due to the damage Donald Trump had done. Biden picked a foreign policy team that consisted of experienced and mainstream figures and unlike Trump he didn’t need to fire any of them within weeks in office like Michael Flynn was.
Biden re-joined the Paris climate agreement as he promised as well as the World Health Organization (WHO). Talks began with Iran over her nuclear programme and the US led a global agreement on tax havens. Biden’s team began mending relations with its allies and NATO, proclaiming at the G7 in June 2021 that ‘America was back.’
China – Biden’s position was that the US needs to ‘get tough’ on China and build a united front of US allies and to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations. He described China as the ‘most serious competitor’ that poses challenges to the “prosperity, security, and democratic values” of the US. Biden’s China policy was a continuation of Trump’s hardline approach. The first meeting between US and Chinese officials took place in March 2021. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan along with other administration officials met with the Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, and other Chinese officials in Alaska. What ensued were heated exchanges on China’s human rights abuses, cyber attacks, China’s threats against Taiwan, her crackdown in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
In October 2021 the administration’s China trade policy team maintained Trump’s approach of imposing tariffs and targeting China’s trade practises. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai laid out an aggressive trade policy against Beijing on the 4th October 2021 that enforced the phase-one trade deal, continuing with the tariff exclusion process and focused more on China’s industrial policies as well as coordinating with allies.
Europe – President Biden promised to repair his predecessor’s strained relationships with European allies. Biden made clear as president his unshakeable vow referring to an attack on Europe is an attack on all, referring to the NATO mutual defence pact. He also pledged support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. But relations with France deteriorated in September 2021 as the US signed a security pact with the UK and Australia. The agreement agreed to provide Australia with nuclear submarines and resulted in Australia cancelling her multi-billion dollar submarine project with France. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the deal a ‘stab in the back.’
Russia – President Biden during his election campaign accused Donald Trump of being soft on authoritarian leaders like Putin. President Biden’s administration carried out a comprehensive review into Russian activities against the US and found Russia had interfered in the 2020 election although no evidence was found of ballot rigging or direct funding.
Whilst the US faces many challenges, arguably its most significant challenges are internal. A year after Biden’s inauguration the US is in an even more perilous state of disunity
The first meeting between President Biden and Putin took place in Geneva in June 2021. There was no joint press conference after the meeting but a joint press release that no one would win in a nuclear exchange and identified areas related to strategic stability, on which the US and Russia might cooperate. This meeting took place after the Biden administration waived sanctions against the Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but then imposed new sanctions in August 2021 against two companies involved in the Nord Stream 2. But by the end of 2021 Russia had moved 90,000 troops to Ukraine’s border accusing NATO of expanding to Russia’s borders. Once again impacting US-Russia relations.
Whilst the US faces many challenges, arguably its most significant challenges are internal. A year after Biden’s inauguration the US is in an even more perilous state of disunity. Over the last year tensions have escalated over longstanding points of divergence, such as abortion rights. The country continues to argue about the COVID-19 vaccine. Biden faces the inglorious position of being less popular than the previous president after his first year in office. Talk of civil war is so rife that it has become a major topic of writing and evening TV show debates. Political discord has reached the point that America’s unity and democracy is being questioned.
It remains to be seen if the US is having its Soviet moment where discord at home catches up with its global position as happened to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. President Biden’s honeymoon period ended in July 2021 and as the period ended his approval ratings only declined as the year went on. But the US as a union faces even bigger challenges than a president’s approval ratings.