by Aidan Burgess ‘23
Joseph Biden’s first year as President of the United States was marked by a series of unprecedented challenges. With a worldwide health crisis (the likes of which have not been seen since the 1918 Spanish Flu), and both domestic and foreign issues on his plate, the former senator and vice president has had many problems to solve—and many promises to keep—in order to reassure Americans about the country’s future.
While Biden has delivered on many of these promises, several have yet to be fulfilled or have been outright broken. The result is one of the most tumultuous and chaotic first years of any president in recent history.
When Biden took office in January, COVID-19 was running rampant. On the campaign trail and in his inaugural address, Biden promised to “crush the virus” and end restrictions and lockdowns put in place by the previous administration.
Biden has fulfilled some of these promises through his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The bill included $350 billion towards state and local relief, as well as $20 billion towards the production of vaccines.
The funds for vaccine research and development can be seen as one of Biden’s greatest achievements as, in the past year, over 200 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose. Building upon “Operation Warp Speed” (initiated by the Trump administration), Biden has ensured that U.S. citizens now have widespread access to three CDC-approved vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
While Biden achieved some success in his handling of the pandemic, the total number of cases and deaths relating to COVID-19 has more than doubled in 2021. While this is dismal news, the blame cannot be placed entirely on Biden; two new variants, Delta and Omicron, emerged in 2021, beyond his control.
Also, while the administration’s vaccine achievements are staggering, the numbers do have room for improvement, as only 63% of the American populace is fully vaccinated, and work remains to devise a plan to vaccinate more Americans.
In terms of foreign policy, Biden promised to maintain America’s status as a leader on the world stage. He also vowed to recommit to America’s allies after a near-isolationist strategy under the previous administration.
Biden delivered on both of these promises through America’s presence at the Group of 7 (G7) Summit in June 2021. At the summit, the U.S.—along with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom—made plans to tackle climate change and send relief to countries affected by COVID-19.
Biden also followed through on these promises when he re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. had left under the previous administration. Composed of over 190 countries, the Paris Climate Agreement addresses the problems of climate change and global warming.
The Biden Administration has not maintained a perfect record with its foreign policy, however, as evinced by the Afghanistan withdrawal. In August 2021, Biden finally withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ending the nearly 20-year-long conflict that began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Prior to the withdrawal, Biden made a promise to Afghanistan that the current government would continue to have U.S. support and that America would conduct a “swift and forceful” response in the event of a Taliban invasion.
However, when the Taliban invaded and violated the ceasefire treaty with the U.S. and Afghan governments, America broke its promise and did not demonstrate a commitment to its allies in the region. During the invasion, American forces continued a chaotic withdrawal, leaving the poorly-prepared Afghan forces to fend for themselves. The Afghan government collapsed in a matter of days, with the Taliban installing a fundamentalist regime in the country.
Additionally, the tragic death of 13 U.S. service personnel—combined with an inability to successfully retrieve U.S. citizens, Afghan aides, and translators—demonstrates poor decision-making and planning by the Administration.
In terms of domestic policy, Biden promised better infrastructure for America. One of Biden’s great achievements was his $1 trillion infrastructure bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
In the bill, which won bipartisan support in both the Congress and Senate, Biden promised to improve quality of life through the termination of lead pipes and investment in environmental remediation. He also vowed to improve America’s infrastructure by investing in public transit, upgrading power infrastructure, improving airports and ports, and increasing access to high-speed internet.
While this bill was an achievement, his Build Back Better plan (which was supposed to be the signature piece of his administration) failed to pass in the Senate.
The Build Back Better plan promised funding for COVID-19 relief, social services, welfare, infrastructure, and climate change. Those who voted against it, which included all Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, believed that Build Back Better would drive the country into an insurmountable amount of debt.
Biden also failed to adequately respond to the recent supply chain crisis. Fueled by the pandemic, empty grocery store shelves, rising meat and gas prices, and a severe backlog of goods have plagued Biden’s first year in office. In the process, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s inexperience became apparent. He has not yet provided solutions to address Americans’ needs, but rather explained how these problems are going to continue.
Biden’s campaign platform was also fueled by promises of reasserting America’s commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees, providing effective screening along the Mexican border, tackling the root cause of migrants, and “undoing Trump’s damage” to the immigration system.
During the Administration’s first year, more migrants have come to the border looking for asylum than at any other point in U.S. history. In the 2021 calendar year, there were 1.6 million encounters between migrants and U.S. border agents—four times the number of encounters during 2020. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked with handling the problems at the border, has turned a blind eye to this crisis and has hesitated to travel to Texas to visit the border.
Additionally, one incident at the border turned violent when, in September 2021, Haitian migrants seeking asylum were chased by border patrol agents on horseback. These migrants had been waiting months to enter the U.S. after fleeing the civil and political upheaval that followed the assassination of the Haitian president in July. Instead of granting the migrants asylum and living up to Biden’s campaign promises, the White House suspended horseback patrols and refused to grant asylum to these migrants.
In conclusion, Biden’s first year as president has ended on a sour note. With only a 38% approval rating and many crises still left to solve—including rapid inflation, lagging vaccination rates, and an overall lack of cohesion and support from his Cabinet—Biden certainly has his work cut out for him.
There is still time to turn the ship around, however, and follow through on the promises that he failed to capitalize on in 2021. Action must be taken sooner rather than later if he and the Democrats hope for a successful midterm election cycle later this year, and a chance at reelection in 2024.