Biden drops the flag on Trumpism… but will the U.S. let him? HENRY DEEDES watches the US gearing up for the new President’s inauguration
The view across Washington’s National Mall this week is as beautiful as it is poignant.
All along the sun-dappled turf, some 200,000 American flags have been arranged with military precision, creating an oasis of tranquillity in a city riven by hatred and fear.
At night the flags create a fluttering carpet of many colours stretching from the towering Washington Monument to the gleaming Capitol Building.
The flags represent absent Americans, those citizens who might otherwise have gathered here today to watch as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden, takes the oath of office.
Instead, they have been told to stay away due to the pandemic and security threats.
It is stark recognition of the impact the Covid crisis has had on the country – with some 400,000 deaths – which Donald Trump has been determined to deny.
The view across Washington’s National Mall this week is as beautiful as it is poignant, writes HENRY DEEDES
And, of course, of the divisive nature of his four-year tenure at the White House that culminated in those shocking scenes of a mob storming Capitol Hill exactly two weeks ago.
The threat of violence continues to hover over Washington, which now more closely resembles Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone than the capital city of the Land of the Free.
On every street, an iron curtain of fencing has been being erected, 10ft tall and crowned with coil upon coil of razor wire.
Each block is cordoned off with vast granite slabs and dumper trucks heavy enough to withstand a charge of marauding elephants.
The flags represent absent Americans, those citizens who might otherwise have gathered here today to watch as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden (pictured with his wife Jill), takes the oath of office
Meanwhile, camouflaged soldiers dominate downtown, toting powerful assault rifles.
There are 25,000 national guard troops on duty, while hundreds of police officers and secret service agents swarm the streets.
It is against this unnerving backdrop that President Biden will today embark on his mission to ‘transform the American soul’.
The question is: Will America let him?
While talk of unity and healing are likely to dominate Biden’s inaugural address, many of those watching at home will worry about the more radical changes he intends to make across the nation as he seeks to erase all trace of the Trump era.
In recent days it has become clear that many of the policies Biden will be pursuing will serve only to inflame the 74 million voters who supported President Trump at the 2020 election.
It is not just the new President’s left-wing agenda that is causing concern, but the sheer speed with which he is going about it.
For a man derided as old and creaky – famously dubbed ‘Slow Joe’ – Biden is rushing at his task at breakneck pace.
His chief of staff Ron Klain has spoken of a ‘ten-day blitz’ of executive action from the moment his boss enters the Oval Office.
There are those who fear such rapid reform will succeed in making America’s divisions worse. As an observer here in Washington, it is hard not to agree.
Take Biden’s pledge to immediately sign the US back up to the Paris Accord on climate change that he helped craft as President Obama’s deputy in 2015.
Trump withdrew from the agreement in November, claiming it would cost jobs in America’s energy sector.
At night the flags create a fluttering carpet of many colours stretching from the towering Washington Monument to the gleaming Capitol Building
Energy workers will be furious at Biden re-entering a pact which, if successful, will cut global temperature less than 0.09F by 2100. Especially when China has refused to sign up.
But then radical environmental policies, which usually involve vast tax hikes, are likely to be the norm under President Biden – or they will be if his deputy Kamala Harris, predicted to be the most influential Vice-President in modern history, has anything to do with it.
In 2019, she helped pen the Green New Deal, a policy paper that advocates overhauling the US economy to tackle climate change. It set the ambitious target of making America carbon neutral by 2030.
Republicans have described the paper as a ‘socialist manifesto’.
There will be anger too among steel workers at Biden’s plans to revoke Trump’s 25 per cent national security tariffs on steel imports imposed in 2018, which, say the industry, are essential to ensure the viability of domestic steel production.
At the same time 11,000 construction jobs are threatened by Biden’s plans to U-turn on Trump’s proposals to build the Keystone pipeline, a 1,200-mile conduit for up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Canada to Nebraska.
On immigration, President Biden has been at pains to show he will make America more welcoming than Trump.
He has vowed to revoke ‘from day one’ Trump’s restrictions on travel from Muslim majority countries, an edict which did much to damage America’s standing in the world.
But of far more concern to ordinary Americans will be how the new President tackles its immigration laws.
Biden will move to loosen them, which will spark dismay among blue-collar workers in Southern states who are fearful of cheap labour flooding across the Mexican border.
In recent days it has become clear that many of the policies Biden will be pursuing will serve only to inflame the 74 million voters who supported President Trump (pictured) at the 2020 election
On the economy, there will also be pressure from the left wing of the Democratic Party for Biden to pursue radical fiscal ideas.
Senators such as Elizabeth Warren are demanding punitive wealth taxes.
Former candidate for the Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders, who favours the sort of beliefs that would make even Jeremy Corbyn blanch, wants all student debt cancelled.
Such policies would be untenable to millions of hard-working Americans whose natural instincts are for low tax, small regulation government.
Biden’s confirmed economic plans already have conservative economists shaking their heads in despair.
Last week, the President-elect pledged a whopping $1.9trillion relief package for the US economy, which includes a $1,400 (£1,010) cheque for most Americans.
While fiscal stimulus is needed to revive the economy post-Covid, such a generous package looks to many like a fast route to higher taxes, higher interest rates and steeper inflation.
As for President Trump’s fate following the events of his last few weeks in office, Biden has stayed largely quiet on the Senate’s decision to impeach his predecessor for the second time last week.
Yet his officials have indicated they plan to press on with the trial, dedicating half the day in the Senate impeaching Trump and the other half implementing new legislation.
Doubtless this will provide Biden’s supporters with their much-craved ‘pass the popcorn’ moment as they get to witness Trump’s humiliation live on national television.
But I fear such a sideshow will serve only to delay America’s healing.
And when Joseph Robinette Biden Jr takes office today, that is surely what should trump all other matters on his agenda.
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