New year, new president, same rules

Illustration by Noelle Hepworth

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Inauguration Day is finally here. Our country donned a new presidential term on Wednesday, which for many means hope of a new era. We haven’t had the greatest four years under former President Donald Trump — however exciting they may have been — so there is an expectation for change. 

With the Trump administration finally meeting its end, there are still nerves riddling the stomachs of Americans as we wait to see what President Joe Biden’s administration will bring. Of course, we can all lay out our anticipations for the new president; a lovely, drama-free term. But as the year 2020 presented, a no-fuss presidency seems unimaginable.

I presume Biden will honor his campaign trail promises and control the COVID-19 pandemic in our country. Many of us yearn to go back to the normalcy of life and leave our homes to be with loved ones without fear of infection; to have classes back on campus and to live a vibrant college experience; to stabilize the economy and prevent another recession. 

Yet, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief plan seems entirely too simple. Combating the mistakes of the Trump era, Biden plans to aid in the distribution of vaccinations. Unlike his predecessor, Biden does not promise that the vaccine alone will help end the pandemic. He understands that we must continue to follow social distancing guidelines and other regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, that’s easier said than done. I spoke to John Aughenbaugh, assistant professor of political science at VCU, about his own expectations for the new term. Aughenbaugh, who has a doctorate in public administration, said Biden may use cooperative federalism to handle COVID-19.

Aughenbaugh described the concept in simple terms: If the federal government would like states to do certain things, they must provide these same states with some incentives. In the case of COVID-19, states hold the power of health. Therefore, it is up to Biden’s administration and Congress to put up some financial reward for states in order to get them on the same page.

For example, if Florida doesn’t implement mandatory masks, but New York does, we would still hit a setback. Should a Floridian make their way up north, their lack of a mask poses a threat to those staying safe. Meaning, the only way our nation stands a chance against the virus is if all states fall in line — which, Aughenbaugh said, would require Biden to provide hefty compensation that would live up to the states’ needs. 

The pandemic is, unfortunately, not Biden’s sole issue. Whilst we all know the election was not stolen and in fact, fairly won, 74 million Americans still voted for Trump. A major concern of polarization in this nation cannot be ignored. We saw the repercussions of such polarity during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. 

Aughenbaugh warns that Biden needs to be aware of the pressure he is facing. While both houses of Congress are controlled by the Democrats, everything comes on a spectrum. 

“It is a new presidential administration, and historically, a new president has a honeymoon period,” Aughenbaugh said. “However, that kind of honeymoon period has become a less frequent political phenomenon.” 

Biden will have a bit of leeway from both parties in an effort to promote partisanship in the new administration. That being said, he will face some resistance from his own party.

Progressive Democrats will expect immediate and stark change, while moderate Democrats might find themselves deciding votes. It is up to Biden to manage and level out the situation in order to not only appease both political parties, but also both ends of his own party.

Biden seems like he has significant pull in our government thanks to his role as vice president under former President Barack Obama. But Aughenbaugh says Biden simply does not have as much political influence and power as we might think.

“I am urging caution to Democrats,” Aughenbaugh said. “While many Americans just want to be done with Trump and move on to Biden, I’m unsure Biden has much political capital to pursue a robust agenda.” 

With his sway and domination under question, Biden is going to have a ways to go to push his agenda and policies through.

As we venture out into both the new year and the new administration, the same rules and standards other presidents have been expected to meet will be applied to Biden. Whether he meets them or not is all up to him.

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