Dear President-elect Biden,
Throughout our entire history, America has experienced moments of karma – some would say providence – that appeared just when the foundations of our republic seemed to be shifting below our feet.The winter of 1776 at Valley Forge, the presidential election of 1800, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the summer of 1863 at Gettysburg, the Battle of Midway in 1942, and the race and anti-war riots of the late 1960s all come to mind. The election of 2020, and the entire year itself, can be added to that list.
You have been elected as our 46th President, in the most divisive, anxiety-filled presidential election since Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860. The 2020 Election will be remembered in our history books for its thin electoral margin in battleground states (just like in 2016), as well as threats to a peaceful transition of power, never heard before in America.
There are echoes of history in your election win. We heard the voices of John McCain and John Lewis from key states that drove your victory home. And of course, the final push came from Philadelphia where the whole American experiment began 244 years ago. And to add another historical exclamation point, we have elected a woman of color, born of immigrant parents, who will now be with you as our Vice-President. The turnout was also historic, and greater than any other election since 1900, with more than 150 million votes cast. That turnout is indicative of very intense emotions among voters – from both sides.
Images of storefronts being boarded up ahead of Election Day, voter suppression, and truck caravans in Texas dangerously harassing your supporters, undermined our confidence in America. Today, the country has never looked more like a “Banana Republic,” and the world is watching in disbelief. Unfortunately, more than a few of the 72 million Trump voters currently think that “the election was rigged,” and their passion cannot be ignored.
Like Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, who were also elected in times of great crises, you have a unique and historic opportunity to lead America through its present turbulence and sit alongside those great Presidents in future history books. The results of the election show that America is deeply divided. Yes, you have a mandate, but that mandate is to bring us all together.
That will be very challenging given all the mechanisms still in place— namely dark money and a polarized media ecosystem. At your victory speech, you powerfully stated, “We will lead, not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” Let the healing begin now with your leadership.
Here are some ideas you might consider if you are to deliver the crowning achievement of your life—uniting our country, transforming our political and economic models, and truly restoring “the Soul of America.”
You can start by building a Cabinet that encourages diverse viewpoints, inclusiveness, and thoughtful debate, much as Lincoln did. Selecting a former rival as your vice-presidential candidate was a great start—it demonstrated that you are not afraid to be challenged with a difference of opinion or to change your mind. That’s a common attribute of great Presidents like Lincoln, FDR, LBJ, and Reagan, as Jon Meacham has so eloquently shown us.
Maybe more than anything, Americans want to trust the Federal Government once again. According to Pew Research, that level of trust is at all all-time low. Hopefully, you will build a Cabinet of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents that will start the process of trust-building.
You might consider forming several bipartisan, diverse “blue ribbon” commissions with the objectives to develop solutions to solve several real, some say existential, “front and center” crises such as tackling COVID and mitigating its impact on our people and economy; transforming policing with national standards to improve community and racial relations; and finally, developing consistent standards and technology for voting processes across the nation—with legislation to follow.
Regarding both policing and the pandemic, the increasing death count and the massive urban protests and violence of this past summer, all speak for themselves as to the dangerous weakening of our nation’s leadership, values, civility, and once highly esteemed position in the world. Among thirty-seven (37) OECD countries, only Spain and Belgium have a higher COVID death rate per capita than the U.S. Our fragmented – almost “hands-off” – COVID response does not speak highly for our performance. So much for American exceptionalism given Trump’s failure of leadership in the COVID crisis:
These commissions should be comprised of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and leaders from business both large and small, educators, labor unions, and everyday Americans. A diversity of thinking, thoughtful debate and compromise, and yes, even a functioning two-Party political model, always lead to better solutions.
The First 100 Days:
Without resorting to governing by Executive Order, which in itself is often an abdication of leadership and compromise, there are a few that do make sense on Day One. We can address climate change and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, implement a national pandemic strategy, and reunite the 545 kids who were separated from their parents at the Mexican border. A robust national plan and strategy for mitigating COVID infections while vaccine work is completed would also ensure that the economy not only stays on a track of improvement but would accelerate the gains even further.
Beyond those orders, getting legislation underway for policing, voting rights, immigration, and gun control would be a tremendous start. How often did we hear a disingenuous Trump say publicly, and in front of the cameras of course, that he wanted to do “something” on gun control and immigration? In fact, on immigration, the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Six” had agreed on an immigration plan back in January 2018. But, as expected, nothing happened on each initiative after Breitbart and the NRA called the President. If you can reach across the aisle to a likely Republican-controlled Senate and win over a few courageous Republican moderates to gain quick wins in those areas, that would be an excellent start for your Administration.
Democrats in the House must resist inflicting any punitive measures on Republicans. Many voted for new GOP Representatives over Democratic incumbents in the House—that should speak volumes to you. Congress must legislate from the middle and take to heart the idea that perfect is the enemy of good. Change within a large group usually begins one step at a time.
Who is better suited to critique Congress and suggest transformative changes to improve its effectiveness than you? You spent an entire career there, and now as a presidential voice, you can make a case for change better than anyone. LBJ, now revered by historians, offers a good model of courageous, history-making presidential leadership. He made history by putting principle above party in getting Civil Rights legislation passed in opposition to southern members of his own party. The transformations you embrace must start by taking “dark money” out of politics—it fuels identity politics, which, in my opinion, treats compromise as weakness. You have expressed strong support of publicly financed campaigns. If you really want to end identity politics, you should nullify Citizens United. And who knows, maybe you will even begin to advocate for term limits!
In a strange way, maybe karma intervened again when the “blue wave” did not materialize. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea that two parties have to debate and compromise to make changes in this great republic. Our leaders are expected to lead by example—when they come together, the American people will come together. Lately, our elected leaders have abdicated this leadership role and find themselves beholden to campaign donors and lobbyists, not the American people. You have an opportunity to change that, President-elect Biden.