Originally published at Project-Syndicate | July 1, 2020
Four years ago, US President Donald Trump looked out at America – and the American people – and saw nothing but carnage. He saw hopelessness and despair, then delivered more of it.
What any normal person looking at America would see today is courage – breathtaking, almost unimaginable courage: the courage of nurses and doctors fighting an insidious, invisible enemy; the courage of young and old, black and white demanding equal treatment by the law and before the law; the courage of the men and women in our military, our FBI, and our intelligence services defending our nation with the devotion they have always shown, even under a president who takes the word of Russia’s Vladimir Putin over theirs. Here is the very best of America, and Trump is blind to it.
For a nation looking for hope four years ago, our elected president offered only contempt. Contempt for our institutions. Contempt for our democracy and the idea that opposition is not treason. Contempt even for the norms of civil behavior.
For four years we have had a president who offered only mendacity, rage, division, and intimidation. Intimidation of his opponents, of course, but also intimidation of anyone (businesses, philanthropies, even church leaders) who dared to disagree with him.
After four years of a president deliberately trying to divide the house that is America, we can and must heal our divisions. Our divisions of race. Our divisions of inequality. Our divisions of want and fear.
After four years of presidential sneering at our friends around the world by a leader offering praise to and even “falling in love” with our deadliest enemies, we can and must restore our alliances and our global leadership so as to make all Americans stronger and safer. We can and must restore trust in America.
After four years of a president inciting hate and rage and fanning racial animosity, our house can and must and will be reunited. It will stand once again as a beacon to the world.
This is a moment that demands an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin D. Roosevelt because we face challenges on a scale equal to those they faced. But the truth is that Lincoln and FDR succeeded because their audacity was answered by the American people with an equal audacity, an equal boldness, an equal belief in America. So, next January 20, we can follow their example and address our society’s deepest wrongs and most glaring needs with an equal boldness, an equal audacity.
The Lincoln Project has laid out the choice before us in the starkest terms imaginable: America or Trump. And this is not overheated election-year rhetoric – our nation is in genuine crisis. Hundreds of thousands of our friends and family are suffering or dying. One-quarter of our jobs have evaporated. Citizens have massed for protests in over 140 US cities, fueling public discord around the world. Our institutions are being vandalized from within in ways that the Founding Fathers could never have contemplated.
Beyond our borders, pity and bewilderment have replaced admiration as the feelings most commonly expressed about our country. The only thing Americans can agree on is that we are on the wrong course.
In this disorienting fog, finding clarity about how things might improve is no easy task. Finding the words and the vision to reunite us may be harder. But found they must be, despite all the distortions of social media.
That monumental task will fall to Joe Biden. As November 3 approaches, it will soon be time for him to speak above the din and articulate the steps he would take in his first 100 days as president to restore our nation to itself, and to its true leadership role in the world.
Here are some ideas:
- Ask Congress to pass a “living wage” (as opposed to a “minimum wage”), with expanded tax benefits to low-income earners via the Earned Income Tax Credit. Work confers vast social and individual benefits, leading to stronger communities as well as greater self-worth and individual independence. Augmenting after-tax employment income builds national self-confidence one worker and one family at a time, and offers a better path to skills attainment and self-satisfaction than a universal basic income (UBI).
- Propose to Congress legislation to fund a $5 trillion ten-year initiative to improve US public infrastructure, including the retrofitting of “smart” traffic systems, road and bridge repair, the modernization of US air traffic control, the construction or refurbishment of “smart” airports, an expansion of passenger rail traffic in congested corridors, and the introduction of driverless cars to provide safe and flexible transportation options for the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
- Announce “Medicare for All Who Want It” and permit interstate health-care insurance shopping, which together will foster greater competition among insurance providers, leading to lower premiums. Fundamental to American principles, and unlike “Medicare for All,” it offers healthcare based on choice. Yet with the public option (and greater competition) it also puts America on a more sustainable financial footing as regards health-care spending.
- Announce a 90-day suspension of all Trump tariffs, against all countries, conditional on the re-opening of multilateral trade agreement discussions that will reboot the World Trade Organization (WTO), and also refocus the aim of free trade as the enhancement of general welfare, finding ways to compensate losers from the gains of winners, and to establish globalization agreements that extend beyond trade to include labor rights and environmental safeguards.
- Declare that the US would be willing to re-enter the Paris climate agreement, and is committed to taking a leadership role to improve its flaws and overcome its shortcomings.
- Establish a $2 trillion professionally managed permanent fund to finance business formation, community redevelopment, social services, and the arts in US communities which have been subject to systemic historical discrimination, including black Americans, Native Americans, and the Japanese-American descendants of those who were forcibly incarcerated during World War II. The Permanent Fund for Justice and Development (PFJD) would be established with an independent board of governors, subject to Congressional approval and oversight akin to the Federal Reserve, and would be tasked with distributing loans on favorable terms and grants to qualified individuals and communities to establish businesses, rebuild communities, and invest in social services and the arts, among others.
- Establish a cabinet-level position for pandemic response preparedness (PRP), with appropriate funding. To ensure proper inter-agency coordination, establish a standing committee on pandemic research and preparedness, chaired by the head of PRP and comprised of the US Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, the Federal Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture.
- Announce a special task force comprised of academic, public-policy and health-care industry experts with a six-month deadline to report to the vice president on a set of policy proposals to manage and mitigate epidemic rates of suicide, depression, and drug addiction in the US.
- Propose complete restoration of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction in the federal tax code for working- and middle-class Americans.
- Announce a plan to reform student loans by establishing a national trust fund. Under the program, individual students would borrow based on the cost of education, with repayment according to a predetermined proportion of future income over a fixed number of years. Students with lower future incomes would pay less than they borrowed, offset by top earners, who would “overpay.” Higher education graduates who enter lower-paying or hazardous public service roles would be offered partial or whole debt-forgiveness.
- Early in his administration, Biden should charge his Secretary of Education to work with Congress on legislation to provide low-cost or tuition-free community college training and retraining of America’s workers, many of whom have been, or may soon be, displaced by automation and other new technologies.
- Propose that legislation be passed to fund a modern version of the GI Bill, offered to US military professionals on completion of active service, to first responders, and to public-health professionals engaged in hazardous duty (such as pandemic response), with benefits ranging from subsidized mortgages and low-interest loans to start a business, to partial school tuition reimbursement, subsidies for living expenses, and accelerated education-related debt forgiveness.
- Announce a commitment to supporting legislation to make access to basic childcare a universal good for American citizens, a program that will encourage greater labor-force participation and provide critical early childhood development and educational opportunities for millions of American children.
- Announce steps to make the Federal tax code more equitable. Specifically, eliminate the carried-interest tax rate for private equity and hedge funds, raise corporate tax rates to 25%, introduce an alternative minimum corporate tax rate to ensure all companies pay a threshold-level tax, remove the “stepped-up cost basis” loophole, and lower the exemption level for federal inheritance tax. Such measures will help reduce wealth inequality and raise needed revenues.
- Explicitly pledge in the inaugural address that a Biden administration will fully support and respect the constitutional or legal independence of key US institutions, such as the judicial system and the Federal Reserve, subject to our system of checks and balances, and including Congressional oversight.
- Via executive order on Day 1 of his administration, Biden should rescind the Muslim ban and ask Congress to pass legislation that will prohibit future US presidents from establishing immigration rules based on race, ethnicity, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, and other such characteristics.
- Repeal or reform the Insurrection Act in order to legally prohibit the use of the US military in cases of domestic civil unrest. Announce that the US Justice Department will fully resume its responsibilities, established in the aftermath of the Rodney King beatings, to investigate, sue, and oversee the reform of police departments that engage in systemic unlawful acts of violence against citizens and communities. Encourage state and local governments to relieve police departments of tasks better assumed by public-health and social-welfare organizations and announce earmarked federal grants to help states fund greater access to health and social support services in communities with the greatest need.
- In his inaugural address, Biden should also announce his support for statehood for the District of Columbia and for non-binding referenda in Puerto Rico and “Pacifica” to determine the desire of their residents for statehood or continued protectorate status, or in the case of “Pacifica,” for the option of joining Hawaii in statehood.
- Announce a commitment to working with Congress, as well as other countries in the western hemisphere, on comprehensive immigration reform and treaties, with the aim of removing physical border barriers by 2030 and replacing them with effectively managed cross-border monitoring, using technology as well as human evaluation, based on law and treaty. The aim is not “open borders,” but rather to establish legal frameworks and procedures to enable appropriate cross-border movement, and also to remove physical symbols that serve only to reinforce feelings of separation, difference, and prejudice.
- Work with Congress to introduce a revised Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution, not just for women, but for all discriminated minorities. Codify in the Constitution, not just in Supreme Court precedent, the equality of all Americans under the law, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, race, religious belief, or sexual orientation.
- Create a path to residency and citizenship for all illegal immigrants in the US who voluntarily come forward to declare themselves (without risk of fine, imprisonment, or deportation), excluding those convicted of felony crimes.
- Invite all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the White House for a summit on renewing the Treaty and the commitments of all members to mutual self-defense and burden-sharing, paving the way for a reopening of a frank and constructive dialogue with Russia about its role in transatlantic and Asian security.
- All friendly nations and their citizens deserve the respect, attention, and even support of the US, but it must once again become clear that the US allies itself first with democracies and countries that respect law, treaties, and human rights, and ultimately the legitimacy of their people.
- Announce a summit to take place on Earth Day 2021, convening heads of state from all countries in the world, in order to announce a joint global effort to remove 95% of plastic in the seas and to meet the Paris agreement commitments for carbon-dioxide reduction on an accelerated timetable, with both aims to be met by or before 2030.
- Announce a renewed American commitment to key multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. As part of that commitment, the president should affirm a willingness to fund these organizations in exchange for their pledges to undertake independent reviews of their strategies, operations, and governance, in order to ensure they are “fit for purpose” to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
- Work with Congress to establish in law the meaning of a “well-regulated militia,” clarifying with greater precision the constitutional right to keep and bear arms in a manner consistent with the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which assures all citizens their right to pursue happiness.
- Change the Justice Department’s internal ruling – call it the Barr/Nixon “interpretation” – that a sitting US president cannot be indicted, prosecuted, or investigated for alleged crimes.
- Propose to Congress legislation establishing a one-year national “draft” for all American residents at age 18 to perform paid social and community service (but not military service, which should remain voluntary).
- Via executive order on Day 1, Biden should announce that the anti-nepotism Title 5 of the US Code, which forbids a public official from appointing a relative “to a civilian position in the agency … over which [the official] exercises jurisdiction or control,” will now also bar the president from appointing any relative to a position in his administration. Congress should codify this practice into law.