By Nancy Patton Mills
This Wednesday, some 75 days after resoundingly defeating Donald Trump at the ballot box, and two weeks after his election was certified by Congress, President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office and finally become the 46th president of the United States of America.
It can’t come soon enough.
The events of Jan. 6, exactly three weeks before his inauguration, will go down as one of the darkest moments in our history.
In Washington, armed extremists occupied parts of our Capitol for the first time in 214 years, breaking the world’s longest streak of peaceful transitions of power in a democracy. They vandalized our nation’s symbols, threatened to kill elected leaders of both parties, and assassinated a member of law enforcement.
In Harrisburg, fueled by partisan lies and conspiracy theories, the Republican majority refused to seat a duly-elected state senator. Thanks to President Donald Trump’s lies and threats, the Biden era will begin by facing a massive surplus of division, and an unprecedented deficit of public trust.
If this were the only challenge staring down the president-elect as he prepared to take office, it would be one of the most daunting an incoming president had faced in recent times. But sadly, after four years of failed leadership by Trump and his enablers, Biden will face challenge after unprecedented challenge at the helm of a government that has been all but rudderless recently.
A once-in-a-century pandemic continues unabated; over 350,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, and nearly a year after the first cases in America were recorded, Trump’s final weeks in office have still been the deadliest in the country to date. In our commonwealth, the number of Pennsylvanians who have contracted the disease is enough to fill the city of Pittsburgh two-and-a-half times over.
And while the discovery of multiple effective vaccines should be a giant step towards victory over the pandemic, the Trump administration’s disastrous vaccination rollout and distribution means that we haven’t turned a corner so much as run into a wall.
A national vaccination strategy requires a coordinated federal response — yet Trump’s haphazard plan has been a disaster. “Operation Warp Speed” hoped to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of 2020; instead, only 2 million Americans had been.
Trump’s public health crisis, of course, has brought with it a corresponding economic crisis. While he inherited a vibrant economy from the Obama administration, the Trump economy that Biden will inherit is in shambles.
But focusing purely on the Trump economy’s disastrous performance during COVID-19 still gives him too much credit. Even before the pandemic, Trump’s economic record was one of broken promises and growth for the extremely wealthy at the expense of Pennsylvania’s working families.
The jobs he promised us would come back didn’t; manufacturing jobs were actually higher in Pennsylvania during the Obama-Biden administration than during Trump’s tenure.
Any one of these calamities would be monumental for a president — facing all of them on day one is nearly unprecedented. I have faith in the ability of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to address these crises, and I know that the majority of Pennsylvania voters do too. But that does not mean being blind to the jaw-dropping size of the challenges they face.
A vote for Biden was not a vote to fix all our problems by waving a magic wand; it was a vote to get to work, rolling up our sleeves and rebuilding our nation back better over the coming months and years.
We can start the long process of rebuilding with one thing folks from both sides of the aisle have been calling for in the wake of the Capitol insurrection — some unity and patience. We can all agree that President-elect Biden loves our country, and he’ll work every day to improve it.
As a fairly elected president, he and his administration deserve the chance to see what the impact of that work can become.
After the last four years, our nation faces truly daunting tasks. But we’re Americans. Given the effort — and the time — needed, we can accomplish them all.
Nancy Patton Mills is the chairperson of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. She writes from Allegheny County.