Journalist Aleksey Zabrodin on why Biden has failed to charm the American public a year after his inauguration.
“Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.” A year ago, then newly elected President Joe Biden uttered these words in front of the Capitol, promising to unite America once again. In his inaugural speech, the politician, who had soundly defeated Donald Trump a month and a half earlier, was very clear that he was different. That from now on, after the “victory of democracy,” the situation would also change.
The terrible circumstances that Americans had to endure — the COVID-19 pandemic, the collapse of the economy, unemployment, racial problems, school shootings and shaken world leadership — resulted from the misfortune of having an amateur as the president for four years. But as of Jan. 20, 2021, the professionals were seemingly back in control. Biden has pledged to lead the U.S. toward a bright future, leaving the dark times in the past with his predecessor. “We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world,” assured the newly elected leader.
Of course, the Democrat, who has dedicated several decades to big politics, could not have been unaware that achieving public unity in a nation historically divided into two ideological camps was an almost impossible task. Such an anomaly is possible only in times of global upheaval, be it a world war or the 9/11 attacks — and even then, with great difficulty. And only in a comedy sketch is it possible to imagine ardent Trump supporters marching alongside Black Lives Matter for the country’s common good, united under Biden.
However, it would be unfair to criticize Biden for his overly ambitious goals. Last January, the divisions between Republicans and Democrats were sharper than ever; the storming of the Capitol was a vivid illustration. In such a situation of acute disagreement, asking the nation to unite and express a willingness to listen to everyone was all but the only way to calm the storm of popular uproar. Besides, Biden’s approval rating at that time steadily exceeded 50%, which meant that at least the majority of Americans believed in him.
However, the triumphant period proved to be short-lived. Just a year later, Biden’s position is faltering. According to polls, over 60% of American citizens believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Biden’s approval rating has not been able to recover for several months. According to some polls, albeit Republican-affiliated, dissatisfaction with the incumbent president is also getting close to 60%. More independent polls cannot please Biden, either. At the moment, the Democrat’s numbers are virtually no different from Trump’s when the powerful media front was trumpeting the failure of his presidency.
Biden’s adversaries will say that he did not live up to voters’ expectations, and they will be partly right. However, the circumstances of the COVID-19 era triumph over even the best of intentions. The Democrat, for example, launched a mass vaccination campaign on his first day as president. As a result, by Jan. 20, 2022, more than 209 million people — 63% of the U.S. population — had been fully vaccinated, and 81 million — 38% — received a booster shot. Nevertheless, despite the best efforts, on Jan. 10, the country recorded a world record of nearly 1.4 million daily COVID-19 cases. For the last few days, the number of daily COVID-19 cases has been fluctuating around 500,000 to 600,000. Indeed, the mass vaccination campaign has played its role. Such high case numbers yielded a reasonably low mortality rate in the range of 700 to 2,000 daily deaths. However, the scale of the wave is displeasing American voters and negatively affects Biden’s approval rating. Of course, Biden is not to blame for the highly contagious omicron variant sweeping the planet, but no one cares. He did not meet voter expectations, and that’s that.
The economy is not faring well, either. At the end of December 2021, the yearly increase in the consumer price index, at 7%, hit a 40-year high. The last surge, during the 2008-09 financial crisis, did not exceed 4%. And if we consider individual categories of goods, the situation in some cases now even looks frightening. For example, as of November, gasoline prices rose by 58.1% in a year, which naturally caused anger among American motorists. Although almost all countries suffered from the inflationary jolt with varying severity, many U.S. voters, known to vote with their wallets, have already drawn conclusions.
Racial discrimination, school shootings and many other problems pinned on Trump by the Democrats and Biden in the heat of the fight against the former president have not gone away.
However, of course, Biden also has something to brag about. For example, unemployment — caused, incidentally, by COVID-19 — has fallen from 6.4% to 3.9% since last January. Judging by projections and the absence of new pandemic restrictions, the positive trend will continue.
On the international stage, there have been successes, too. As we remember, “America is back,” which pleased Europe and other parts of the world that had suffered greatly from Trump’s policies. Perhaps the main achievement of the new administration is that Washington’s closest allies stopped scrambling, and U.S. foreign policy was rebalanced in a more familiar direction.
This has affected the U.S.’s allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, but also their traditional opponents. For example, U.S.-Russian contacts resumed under Biden after four years of their degradation, despite the generally positive rhetoric of the former U.S. president. And although relations between Moscow and the West are now, to put it mildly, in crisis, due to actions of politicians on either side of the ocean, they are sitting down at the negotiating table more and more often.
However, all these developments in high politics do not have much effect on the opinion of the U.S. voter. On the other hand, Americans seemed to have been very impressed by the failure of the Afghanistan withdrawal in August. Many of them must have thought of Biden not meeting their expectations when they saw the shocking footage from Kabul.
That is not to say that Biden made the situation much worse. On the contrary, following his ideas of right and wrong, he has clearly tried and expects to try again for at least another three years. And perhaps in different, calmer times, the 79-year-old politician would have been hailed as a good president. But in crisis times, just saying the right words and even doing good deeds is not enough. Unconventional maneuvers and thinking outside the box are needed during such times. America is waiting for results, and the current administration is not providing them. Therefore, as the Democrats’ first year in power has shown, they will most likely miss the opportunity to leave the disgraced Republicans trailing for many years. And the November 2022 midterm elections will be a stern test for Biden and his administration, after which the situation will become much clearer.
The author is a columnist for Izvestia. The author’s opinion may not reflect the views of Izvestia’s editorial board.