As the Biden administration completes its first 100 days, I am both surprised by the ambition of this administration and disappointed by its retention of policies and political norms that exacerbate wealth inequality and entrench white supremacy.
Let’s start with the sheer ambition. This administration’s intention to create a historic break from long-standing efforts, by leaders from both political parties, to hollow out our government and limit the public’s imagination of what is possible has been inspiring. Unquestioned neoliberalism as the organizing imperative of the U.S. government seems to be up for debate by our current political leaders and by the direction of this administration.
Appointments of long-standing critics of this ideological approach is one sign of this sea change. Through its funding ambitions, this administration has started to demonstrate how government spending is tied to expanding opportunity, fulfilling civil rights commitments, and expanding civic engagement. The proposed infrastructure bill could shepherd a new moment in governance as a tool for the public good, in service of public well-being.
Another sign of change is the content and tone of the political debate by our political leaders. I specifically found the Judiciary Committee’s hearing, “Algorithms and Amplification How Social Media Platforms’ Design Choices Shape Our Discourse and Our Minds,” to be a robust and necessary examination of the disproportionate power social media companies and the business of political polarization. This was a far cry from the 2018 Senate hearings with Mark Zuckerberg, when most of our political representatives were ill-equipped to address antitrust, white supremacy in tech, and the crisis caused by the business of peddling in crisis.
And now to the disappointments. There has been insufficient action around immigration. The continued targeting of undocumented people in this country is harrowing. Kids are still in cages. ICE continues to terrorize our communities. And there is no plan or proposal for the millions of human beings who call this country home.
The second disappointment is the administration’s lack of ambition around economic opportunity: this includes a robust system to tax the wealthy and corporations, forgive student debt, and raise the federal minimum wage immediately. These gaps reflect an assumption that economic opportunity can be seized evenly and turns a blind eye to ways the federal government has placed its thumb on the scale in service of a few at the expense of a majority.
Most disappointing is the commitment of this administration to the police, the carceral state, and criminalization. In 2021, there have only been three days that the police – paid for by every single taxpayer – did not kill someone. This administration’s commitment to policing as an antidote to poverty, mental illness, driving infractions, and substance abuse is appalling. The inability to engage in the necessary consideration of abolition as a step towards the promise of a multiracial democracy and representative economy gives me great pause about the future prospects and promise.
While the Biden-Harris Administration has made vast improvements in its first 100 days in office, there is still much to be done, both at the federal level and among our local governments and communities. We need to return to a country of humane, just societal conditions. I call upon the administration to fulfill the promises the Biden campaign made last year.
Dr. Carmen Rojas is the president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation.