In rebuilding and restoring America, the focus will also be on investments made in non-defence research and development.
US President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of American Congress recently has raised debates on whether his address was different than other Presidents in US history. His address—coming at a time when the unstoppable wave of the deadly coronavirus pandemic is rampaging across the world—assumes added significance, more particularly for the steps taken towards key commitments to combat the pandemic and restore American economy. The way in which President Trump ended his term had invited major criticism in the United States, for failing to handle the health crisis, the economic situation and the climate crisis that required multilateral mechanisms. His actions faced disapproval for the ways in which he dealt with close American allies, and not to speak of the way in which he refused to accept a peaceful transfer of power, leading to an insurrection at the US Capitol. President Biden has assumed office at a time when the US has been facing rising social divisions, deepening political polarization and rising income inequality.
There is no denying the fact that the domestic as well as geopolitical contexts is completely different in the current context in comparison to the past American history. The address sounded highly optimistic for the American people despite all adversities. President Biden’s focus on the statement that “America is on the move again” has given a sense of security to the people especially when the US has been undergoing through a series of challenges including the pandemic and the ongoing economic crisis. Whatever reflections President Biden made in his address will form the part of his priorities—gun control, immigration, infrastructure, education and childcare plan.
Upon the formal inauguration of his presidency amidst the pandemic and the aftermath of the insurrection, his promise to govern not only for those who voted for him, but also for those who did not vote him appeared all the more challenging. It is worth recalling that Trump even while losing the election, managed to get more than 70 million American votes, leading many to question whether Biden will be presiding over a united America, or an America divided along political, social and economic lines. Given this context, the commitments that were made by President Biden to restore America to domestic consensus, economic vitality and global reengagements were crucial. Whether it is weathering the health crisis or combating climate change, the Biden administration clearly sees success in these drives to an outcome linked to restoring the American economy.
The massive vaccination drive in the US that Biden promised as his priority and bringing back America to normalcy are seen to be showing some positive results. Helping all Americans in dire need of funds to face the onslaught of the pandemic affecting their livelihoods was the central priority of the American Rescue Plan. President Biden during his speech at the Congress, claimed to have made a commendable move by getting 800,000 more Americans enrolled in the Affordable Care Act, to having created more than 1.3 million new jobs in the first 100 days of his office and leading to visible growth prospects in the American economy.
A major focus of the Biden administration, invoking its competition with countries like China, is to restore American infrastructure by linking it to one of the most ambitious jobs action plan since World War II. In Biden’s words, it will create “jobs to upgrade our transportation infrastructure” aimed at modernizing roads, bridges and highways, building ports and airports, rail corridors, transit lines and providing clean water. Close on the heels of convening a virtual leadership summit on climate change, President Biden reiterated his call to link the fight against climate change and turning towards a greener economy to creating jobs and revitalising the American economy. Moreover, in contending that the “American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America”, he re-emphasised his administration’s call to create synergy between American foreign and domestic policy for the benefit of the American middle class.
In rebuilding and restoring America, the focus will also be on investments made in non-defence research and development, on the technologies and innovations that will define the future of economic dynamism including “advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy”. On the front of foreign policy and international security, President Biden emphasised the need to “maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific” with the purpose of preventing conflict, and not to start conflict. Drawing on divergences with countries like China and Russia, he also pointed at the need to cooperate when in mutual interest, speaking of convergences over the climate crisis and arms control arrangements like the New START Treaty. He contended that it was time for the US to bring back forces from Afghanistan after 20 years, while promising to “maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland”. As President Biden stood before the joint session of the US Congress, and delivered a speech, invoking his call to restore America to health, social unity and political consensus, economic vitality and revived engagement with allies and partners, the challenges both at home and abroad seemed many, even as he celebrated the gains made in his first 100 days.
One can see how President Biden has attempted to instil confidence though this address to the joint session of American Congress and also articulate the fundamental goals of the US in the next four years.
Arvind Kumar is Professor of the United States’ Studies and Chairman of the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi. Monish Tourangbam teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.