- - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

There was something eerie about a virtual inauguration even before the chill of violent Capitol Hill protests.

We could exclaim a vibrant nation deploying technology to frustrate a pandemic, but we know we coped with COVID-19 badly. From masks, testing and tracking to a botched vaccine rollout.

The federal government of a continental nation can set priorities but must rely on state agencies to organize local responses appropriate to disparate circumstances in Wyoming and New York.

Local officials scream budget cuts but that is like ringing a doorbell. Ask bureaucrats to do something extraordinary — or simply work overtime to inoculate their neighbors — and they cry where’s the cash.

Coming out of the Great Depression, a prior generation was broke but not broken. It defeated the fascist powers in Europe and Asia.

Today, if push comes to shove, the U.S. fleet may quickly look like the Spanish Armada in the face of China’s modern military. America is one crisis away from ceding the Indo-Pacific.

Beijing holds the bonds and mortgage on America. Subtract the grip of the dollar on global financial markets, and America is reduced to client state status.

Beijing is rolling out a digital currency, while the Federal Reserve sits on its hands.

The military has even forgotten how to build weapons. Full production of the F-35 fighter, after billions of dollars squandered, has been indefinitely postponed. Among other defects, it is not anticipated effective against Russian and Chinese air defenses.

The GAO warns the next generation missile submarine program is at risk owing to spotty quality controls. And it all sounds a lot like the 737 Max debacle, because American’s private manufacturing can’t seem to get much done these days. U.S. factories even lag Italy and Mexico in deploying robots.

The SolarWinds cyberattacks revealed just how misfocused, inept and vulnerable our national security establishment and top technology companies have become. 

It is no accident that the winners in the quadrennial presidential sweepstakes are always telling Americans the country is broke. Hope and Change, MAGA and Build Back Better all promised a secret sauce but the country needs a lot more than alternating strategies of identity politics and protectionism.

America requires some tough love — President-elect Biden, that’s your calling.

Five million citizens will emerge from the pandemic unable to return to their old jobs. They need retraining and told to relocate — not codling.

Mayors order police to keep decent citizens from New Year’s gatherings in public places, but Black Lives Matters mass demonstrations are just fine — how are the former spreader events but not the latter.

Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution requires that the federal government guarantee each state a Republican form of government and protect it from invasion and domestic violence. Street mobs taking over police precincts and looters scout cities by day to return at night while mayors and governors sit on their hands is what we call in the Third World massive corruption and “state failure.”

If governors like Jay Inslee and Andrew Cuomo don’t have the sense or stomach to fend off dystopia then it’s Mr. Biden’s job to do it.

America desperately needs to rebuild its roads, rails and airports and extend high speed Internet to every corner and child, but infrastructure construction labor productivity has fallen more than 25 percent since 2000. 

The states build the structures and schools — Washington only writes checks. Mr. Biden should spend the $2 trillion needed over ten years but make disbursements to the states conditional on restoring lost labor productivity. It would be entertaining to watch Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio confront their union boss’ work rules.

Japan will require all cars be electric or hybrid by 2035. Toyota says that would wholly disrupt the industry’s business plan. Good, that’s the whole idea.

Mr. Biden should build his fleet of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations but not without imposing a similar mandate here. That would cause an earthquake in Detroit, but the future of the auto industry is with Elon Musk anyway.

Identifying with his working class, Catholic roots, I have always liked Joe Biden — but more so when he was 58 than at 78.

For secretary of Defense, Mr. Biden passed over Michelle Flournoy, who understands the cyber challenges and perils in the Pacific, for a reticent land war general to appease his party’s left wing.

He appears more a fading monarch surrounded by a younger generation of scheming royals than a president with a grasp.

Mr. Biden — for our children — prove this professor wrong.

• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist. 

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