Transition of Power in a Time of Crisis

By Vincent D’Amore ’22

by Titian; Prado Museum in Madrid.

Every four years, the United States holds its presidential election in November, followed by the inauguration of the president-elect on January 20th at 12:00 P.M. Despite challenges from President Trump’s legal team, this centuries-long, traditional process of the peaceful transition of power continued on January 6th, 2021 as Congress certified Joseph R. Biden as the President of the United States .

Not letting the disturbing riot at the Capitol Building on January 6th halt their duties, Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, House Minority Leader McCarthy, and then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell were all able to rally the members of their respective parties to return to the Capitol to certify the electoral votes. Returning to work and staying steadfast in a time of crisis truly embodies the concept of American exceptionalism. While there were objections and debate, all fifty states had their results certified by the early hours of January 7th, 2021.

Two weeks later, on January 20, 2021, at noon, seventy-eight-year old Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated as the forty-sixth President of the United States, making him the oldest person to start his first presidential term in office. With National Guard units from several states deployed as a result of the January 6th riots, as well as every guest in attendance required to wear a mask, the optics were far from ordinary this year.

Prior to his defeating the incumbent President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, President Biden had been chasing the presidency for multiple cycles prior to 2020. President Biden, like many presidents at the start of their first term, has the government under one party, leading most Americans to believe that he will have an easy time pushing his agenda through both chambers of Congress. President Biden is also inheriting multiple national crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, an unstable economy, and a number of national security threats both foreign and domestic. The pressure is on for President Biden to make good on the ambitious goals he outlined on the campaign trail. Much of his success will hinge on his ability to bridge, or at least navigate, a contentious political divide.

In terms of other presidents inheriting a crisis at the start of their presidency, Abraham Lincoln came into office at the start of the American Civil War. After Lincoln had won the presidential race, but before he had taken office, South Carolina, followed by numerous other Southern States, seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Lincoln was dealt a bad hand in that the United States, which wasn’t even a century old at the time, was deeply divided, and Lincoln had to lead it out of an absolute plight. Eventually, after four long years of bloodshed, the Union was victorious. This Union victory came at a price, however, as it had cost Lincoln his life; he was assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, just days after the war had ended. Biden, undoubtedly, is taking office with a very divided country in the midst of a global pandemic, which is arguably comparable, yet perhaps, not quite as dire as the calamities that Roosevelt and Lincoln encountered.

President Biden has been known to be relatively moderate in his career as a Senator, and subsequently, as Vice President, but will have pressure from the more radical members of his party to commit to their side on divisive issues, including increasing corporate tax rates, admitting Washington D.C. as the fifty-first state, and reforming the judiciary.

President Biden will certainly have his work cut out for him; however, he takes the office with decades of experience and a strong track record of working productively with members of both parties on Capitol Hill.