Illustration by Zelalem Waritu

Can President Biden Save the United States?

A once great democracy now resembles nothing more than a broken and battered shell of a global power.

Jan 31, 2021

400,000 Americans dead due to Covid-19. 22 million jobs lost. 307 days spent at golf resorts. 288 executive orders. Three rushed Supreme Court Justice confirmations. Two impeachments. These are just a few of the shocking numbers that illuminate the nature of Trump’s chaotic 1,462-day long presidency.
Looking back on Trump’s time in the Oval Office, it is appalling to see the number of insensitive, racist and unprofessional comments and behaviors that took place. He criticized immigrants from Haiti and Africa, calling their homelands “shithole countries.” He called white supremacists and neo-Nazis “very fine people”. He spent the majority of President Obama’s presidency spreading lies about his true country of birth. He tried to destroy Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s incredible legacy by calling her dying wish of being replaced after Trump’s term a Democratic hoax. He even downplayed a global pandemic that has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the destruction of countless lives.
His presidency brought a huge increase in hate crimes, an enormous national deficit, the attempted demolition of Obamacare and increasingly tense relations with former foreign allies. He spent the final two months of his presidency making countless baseless claims about pervasive voter fraud and a rigged election before his exit from the White House. His tumultuous term drew to a horrifying close when he incited a coup at the U.S. Capitol which resulted in the death of five people. He praised the rioters and continued to refuse to accept his defeat in the election. He then joined the short list of presidents that have boycotted their successor’s inauguration ceremony, adding to his long track record of dodging important traditions. Needless to say, President Joe Biden’s inauguration marks a much needed new chapter in U.S. history and there is no shortage of projects to tackle.
But how do we repair the cracks that Trump created in the foundation of American democracy and politics? Even in that moment of widespread celebration among the 81 million U.S. citizens who voted to oust Trump from office, Washington was no paragon of peace and optimism. 25,000 members of the National Guard lined the streets of the capital to supervise the White House transition.
The United States is not only divided politically but also by different perceptions of truth and fact, by conspiracy theories and by distrust in institutions. If U.S. citizens cannot even agree on what is considered basic fact, how can the country overcome its greater issues and divisions? Some solace can be found in the fact that the electoral system worked and the election decision was confirmed by Congress, finally bringing Trump's divisive presidency to an end. Then again, if the only piece of optimism that can be drawn from this situation is that a president was unable to overturn the results of a legitimate election and reluctantly agreed to a peaceful transition of power, what does that say about the state of utter disarray in the United States?
Since his inauguration only one week ago, Biden has already made a number of strides to reverse the effects of Trump’s reign. Among these include rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, recommitting to the World Health Organization and removing Trump’s controversial travel ban. He does all of this with Kamala Harris at his side who, while being no exemplar of the perfect vice president, serves as an important symbol of progress as she became the first woman and woman of color, to assume the office. And her importance will be more than a mere symbol, as with an evenly split Republican-Democratic Senate, Harris will likely be casting many deciding votes on important legislation on the climate, pandemic and economy.
Now that Biden has assumed power, the world is reengaging with many global powers. Some leaders have already commended the president for his quick action to reverse many of Trump’s most controversial decisions and to recommit to the virtues of progress and peace upon which the nation prides itself. But Biden’s administration certainly has its work cut out for it. Trump’s time in office obliterated many previously positive relationships with other global powers and leaders, and there may be cases in which no amount of work and reparations on the part of Biden’s administration can restore the broken alliances in the Middle East, Europe and the Indo and Asia Pacific. However, Biden’s long history of international cooperation — including many years as a member of the Senate committee on foreign relations and eight years as vice president — has prepared him well for this immense challenge ahead.
Despite these early victories in his short time in office, I remain skeptical whether or not Biden can fix the broken American system. During his inauguration speech, Biden optimistically declared that “Democracy has prevailed.” I certainly hope so, but I’m not convinced. I do not mean to argue that Biden can do nothing of benefit for the nation, rather my intention is to temper expectations that Biden is a magical panacea for the issues plaguing American society. His plans for his presidency are necessary steps in the right direction: improving privileges for marginalized groups, revising the justice system, rekindling foreign alliances, responsibly managing the Covid-19 pandemic and combating climate change.
As a U.S. citizen who hasn’t been back to the United States since early January of last year, I do not recognize my country anymore. Reading the news and seeing the horrible things that have happened there in the past year makes me deeply upset and pessimistic. A once great democracy now resembles nothing more than a broken and battered shell of a global power. I truly hope that President Biden can work toward unifying a fiercely divided nation and repairing many of the things that were broken during Trump’s years in office. I do not believe that Biden will be able to save American democracy within the next four years, but I do not know that anyone can.
Zoe Waritu is Staff Illustrator. Email her at
gazelle logo