Seven reasons to feel better this morning

Clean slate: Joe Biden overturned Donald Trump’s policies with a flurry of executive orders.

Can we relax and stop worrying now? Joe Biden has instantly erased many Trump policies in an unprecedented display of power. The entire world seems to be breathing a giant sigh of relief.

“No time to start like today.”

Joe Biden had barely been inaugurated when he set to work. Sitting behind the Resolute desk for the first time on Wednesday, the 46th president of the United States calmly signed a record 17 executive orders. Many of Donald Trump’s decrees came undone with the stroke of a pen.

After four years of fake news and relentless outrage, Biden’s instant destruction of his predecessor’s programme felt like the lifting of a storm. Here are seven reasons to feel happier.

Democracy now. Surviving an onslaught of lies, phoney lawsuits and an attempted coup, Biden’s successful campaign has proved that American democracy is strong enough to defeat internal foes. It also shares a message of defiance to the country’s autocratic critics.

Apocalypse later. With the nuclear football safely removed from Donald Trump’s grasp, the fear of atomic warfare has faded. The Doomsday Clock might wind back a minute or two.

Climate hope. Signalling climate change as his largest priority after the pandemic, Biden has returned the US to the Paris Agreement. He has promised to cut emissions and set aside several oil and gas schemes. The world’s second biggest polluter could become its environmental saviour.

Band aid. The US has had a disastrous pandemic, hosting 25% of all recorded cases. Biden is boosting the country’s response and promoting masks. He has also halted Trump’s planned exit from the World Health Organisation. America’s unrivalled power and resources will join the global struggle against the virus.

Breaking barriers. Trump’s regime was marked by the cruel treatment of migrants on the US-Mexico border, including putting children in cages. Biden has signed orders to end such enforcement and halt the building of a border wall. He has also lifted Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. America is once again open to the world.

Fair play. After a year in which America’s inequalities were laid bare, Biden has made strides towards a fairer society. He has outlawed workplace discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. He has demanded racial equity in federal agencies. And he has barred all government workers from using their position for personal gain.

Together again. Lashing out at allies in Europe while praising tyrants like Kim Jong-un, Trump destabilised America’s long-term alliances. Biden has already signalled plans to strengthen ties between democracies and recommit to NATO.

Can we relax and stop worrying now?

After the storm

Yes, say some. Trump will skulk into the history books, a loser. By undoing the worst excesses of the past four years in an instant, Biden has reset the needle. In targeting the pandemic, tackling climate change, encouraging international collaboration and supporting democracy, the world’s most powerful nation can become a force for good.

Dream on, say others. American politics have returned to the status quo, but it was rotten long before Trump. Meanwhile, the pandemic rages on, the climate crisis looks terminal and the world still suffers from famine, warfare and inequality. Although Trump fuelled some of these problems, his loss does not remove them. At best, we have more breathing space in which to address them.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist?
  2. Can a leader enter office with a clean slate?

Activities

  1. Write and present a BBC News report on Biden’s first day in office.
  2. You have become the president of your home country. Compose a speech for your inauguration ceremony that mentions five current policies you plan to overturn, explain your reasoning behind each change.

Some People Say...

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”

William James (1842 - 1910), philosopher and pioneer of psychology

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the office of US president confers the power to affect not just American politics, but the entire world. The US has a 24.41% share of the global economy while housing 4.25% of its total population. It spends more on defence than the next 10 countries combined. And, as of 2020, it is the world leader for soft power: the ability to attract or persuade other nations by instilling values, scientific research and cultural output.
What do we not know?
There remains some debate over whether the US will be able to maintain its global pre-eminence. On the economic front, it might slip: China, which currently makes up a 16.34% share of the global economy, is growing faster. Yet some scholars believe that the country’s incomparable military might and nuclear arsenal – as well as the dollar’s status as a global reserve currency, guarantee it high status for decades to come, regardless of economic success elsewhere.

Word Watch

Resolute desk
An oak desk made from the timbers of the British exploration ship HMS Resolute, gifted to President Rutherford B Hayes in 1880 by Queen Victoria. It has been used by 7 of the past 8 US presidents.
Executive orders
A federal regulation passed by the US President. Unlike bills, they do not have to be approved by Congress to become law.
Phoney
Fake, not genuine. First used in 1899, it is a rare English word with an unknown origin. Some claim it descends from “fawney”, a gold-coated ring sold by a swindler for more than its genuine value.
Autocratic
Referring to a ruler who has absolute power. Since Ancient Greece, autocracy and democracy have been viewed as opposing methods of government.
Nuclear football
The briefcase containing the authorisation codes for the US nuclear arsenal. An aide carrying the case has continuously accompanied the president since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Doomsday Clock
A measure of how close humanity is to extinction. It is currently set at 2 minutes to midnight, the closest it has been to catastrophe (marked at midnight) since 1953 when the US and Soviet Union both exploded thermonuclear bombs.
Kim Jong-un
Dictator of North Korea. Trump claimed that he and Kim “fell in love” during a 2018 meeting.
NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, a group of 30 European and North American countries pledged to collective defence. It was established in 1949 to provide security against the Soviet Union.
Status quo
The existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.

Subjects

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