As we look back on the majesty of President Biden’s inauguration, we should pause to consider the gravity of the moment we face. The country faces a cascading set of crises that is unprecedented since the Great Depression.
As they prepare to lead the country, The Biden administration should consider the words of President John F. Kennedy, as he faced the grave and contentious challenge of the Cold War, when he said: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our responsibility for the future.”
The challenges President Biden has inherited are equally dangerous.
We face a virulent pandemic that has killed over 400,000 beloved souls from communities all across the country.
It has crippled the economy and caused millions of Americans to go jobless, hungry and to despair about the future.
At the same time, we are reminded that the promise of America continues to fall woefully short of providing racial equity for all God’s children.
Mr. Biden spoke eloquently about putting the nation on a path toward renewal and reconciliation, where trust in government and our institutions is restored and calls for unity are pursued with tenacity and a seriousness of purpose.
But we must do more than exhort the promise of unity. And we must do more than re-up our values to tackle the challenges we face.
We must restore the trust of the American people by unifying them around a series of smart and effective policy solutions that will wipe out COVID-19 and materially improve the economic trajectory of their lives.
Toward that end, it is time to aim big and not be satisfied with small gestures. The magnitude of our challenges will require the very best of us. It is time to turn away from the poisonous politics of pettiness and blame and focus on fixing what is holding America back.
First, we must fight COVID-19 like we fought the terrorists of 9-11 or World War II. The pandemic is an existential threat to our people and our country. In this tragic war, we have lost more lives than we lost in WWI, WWII, Vietnam and the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict combined. It is a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. Americans must be much more vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and avoiding careless contact with people.
Mr. Biden’s proposed stimulus will provide over $500 billion to re-open schools safely, hire over 100,000 people to help administer the vaccine and provide millions of tests to identify the severity and scope of the COVID-19 transmission. This should not cause a significant partisan fight. We should treat the moment just as we did when the terrorists flew the planes into the twin towers. It’s time to take the gloves off and fight COVID-19 like the enemy. That begins not only with being more aggressive about adhering to safety protocols, but we must quickly overcome the less-than-inspiring roll out of the vaccine. American exceptionalism is being tested. We have the know-how and technology to make it happen. We have no time to waste.
Second, millions of Americans are out of work through no fault of their own. We had to shut down most of the economy in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Over a million restaurants and bars may be lost, hundreds of thousands of movie theaters shut down, cities and states are in financial free fall, millions of Americans are on the cusp of being evicted from their apartments and food lines stretch for miles populated by people who have run out of money to buy food.
The government is responsible for shutting down the economy that has led to misery for millions. It cut the heart out of economic growth. While those on Wall Street, in Big Tech and other wealthy individuals increased their financial fortunes during this time, we now have an obligation to help those it has harmed. The president’s budget has over $1 trillion in his stimulus package to address these problems. We should make sure we use the resources to rebuild the tax code to reinvigorate Main Streets all across America by cutting taxes for small businesses, especially restaurants, bars, small landlords, nail salons and movie theaters.
Finally, let’s take this fragile and unprecedented moment to continue the journey toward a more perfect union. As much as COVID-19 and its impact on the economy have done great damage to the country, greater damage has been done over two centuries by not integrating people of color into the full franchise of America. Twenty-one years into the 21st century, the United States can and must do better.
For unity to take root, addressing these three challenges would be a good beginning. But we have so much more to do. Let’s curb homelessness. We should provide a basic and living income for every working American. We need to expand broadband in rural and urban areas. And let’s increase resources to provide greater access to mental health services. They are not only the right thing to do to strengthen our people and the country, they will help us manage the next national crisis we face.
Unity in our country must be connected to the hopes and dreams of all Americans. If not, it’s just another hollow word with little meaning. The country is ready for an economy that focuses on meeting the needs of America’s families and a politics that delivers meaningful change, rather than promising too much and ultimately delivering too little.
Let’s get to work. We have no time to waste.
• Harold Ford Jr. is a former Democratic U.S. representative from Tennessee and currently CEO of Enpowerment and Inclusion Capital.