A Biden presidency will face a polarized nation

Joe Biden speaks at a community event at the Gateway Conference Center on Jan. 21, 2020, in Ames.

Katherine Kealey

Almost a week has passed since Election Day and a lot has happened, Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States after an election he referred to as the battle for the soul of the nation.

Alongside him is Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian American vice president of the United States, breaking a glass ceiling for women all over the country.

Jassma’Ray Johnson, a business owner and junior majoring in psychology, is a leader of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement. Johnson said she is proud of the Brown and Black folks who voted this election after working to restore people with felony convictions’ right to vote in the state of Iowa. 

Johnson said while she is happy to see President Donald Trump out of office, Harris’s election is history in the making.

“I am happy to see a Black woman as the vice president of the United States — THAT is history and representation for young Black women everywhere. A Black woman who graduated from an HBCU and a member of a D9 sorority,” Johnson said. “There may be some highs in response to this election, but unfortunately this system is still far from working how we need it to.”

Biden and Harris’s plan focuses heavily on building back better such as a COVID-19 relief plan, which includes improving testing and contact tracing, access to protective equipment and equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines.

As for the economy, Biden intends to provide immediate relief for working families, small businesses and communities through extending COVID crisis unemployment insurance and providing a comeback package for main street business and entrepreneurs. 

Biden also plans to give every American access to affordable health insurance by building on the Affordable Care Act. According to Biden’s website, his administration also has plans to support educators, students and veterans and how to tackle the climate crisis.

Leading up to the win.

While Biden did secure over 74 million votes, Trump still obtained more than 70 million American’s votes. Biden has said it will be his job to represent all Americans regardless of who they voted for. 

After a red mirage Tuesday night, odds shifted in Biden’s favor when he secured Wisconsin and Michigan and continued to solidify his lead after winning Pennsylvania and Nevada. 

Mack Shelley, chairman of the political science department, said Biden was able to win Pennsylvania because of heavy urban and suburban votes, which consist of better-educated people with blue-collar jobs. Pennsylvania has been described as Pittsburgh in the east, Philadelphia in the west and Alabama in the middle, making it a light blue tint on the electoral map. 

“Being able to win Pennsylvania with a whole wad of the state geographically that is not pro-Democratic is a pretty good trick,” Shelley said. 

High voter turnout also worked in Biden’s favor to take Pennsylvania, Shelley said. Nevada also set Biden well over the need for the 270 electoral votes. In Nevada, the Latinx vote has been an emerging voter bloc. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries Sen. Bernie Sanders won the state largely because of his support of young Latinx voters.

“Arguably what came through for Biden this time, and probably will continue to keep Nevada on the Democratic side as long as the party understands it has to reach out to those younger more progressive kinds of interests,” Shelley said.

The polarization Biden faces going forward.

But Biden’s battle isn’t over now that he has the 270 majority. Starting Jan. 20 just after noon, Biden will begin his presidency and will bear the weight of the pandemic, recession and a polarized country on his shoulders. 

“Black lives still matter. Indigenous lives still matter, indigenous land still matters-– the land that is stolen and continues to be stolen from,” Johnson wrote in a response. “Biden winning does not erase this, or erase the sexism, homophobia, and systematic, structural, and individual racism.”

Biden has a plan to build back better by advancing racial equity across the American economy through reforming opportunity zones to fulfill their work, equalizing federal procurement and ensuring workers of color are compensated fairly and treated with dignity. 

“Black people are still being incarcerated, Black people still face daily police violence, and live in a society full of racism, hate, and discrimination,” Johnson said. “I am still Black. And I am still a woman-– therefore I still live in a system that is not designed or built to work for me, but actively against me. A system that Joe Biden does and will continue to sponsor.”

Within the Democratic Party, there is a fraction between what’s seen as establishment and progressive Democrats. In particular, members of “The Squad” are known for ‘rankling’ fellow Democrats and exposing generational divides within the party. After the announcement of Biden’s win, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said to reporters before there was any data on the races there was already finger-pointing at progressives and the movement for Black lives.

Shelley said this exposes the party’s inability to appeal to new voting blocs. 

“This is a generational and kind of ideological split that is not going to bode well for Biden trying to govern,” Shelley said.

While Democrats lost seats in the House, they still hold the majority. The Senate is a different story and will likely be a long, nail-biting battle between the two parties over the majority. The division of the Senate will come down to one state: Georgia.

Georgia has two Senate seats up for election, one of them being a special election. Democrats would need to win both seats to tie Republicans, assuming the North Carolina and Alaska Senate races fall Republican as they currently lean in their favor. 

“It also means Georgians are going to be subjected to continued pressure, they are going to get mobilized and there will be really intense get out the vote efforts in the state,” Karen Kedrowski, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics, said. “So all eyes will be on Georgia.”

This means the final tie-breaking vote in the Senate will fall on Harris, but as of now only the special election looks somewhat promising for Democrats, while the runoff between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff leans red but both races are too close to call.

“There is a structural problem Biden is going to run up against by virtue of the fact that there is no Democratic majority and there really can’t be at this point in the Senate,” Shelley said. “So any legislation he can get through the House is going to hit Mitch McConnell and he has called himself the grim reaper.”

Kedrowski said Americans are very comfortable with divided government but divided government only works well when the different parties compromise.

“That is not exactly happening very often these days and that has really been on the decline since the mid-90s,” Kedrowski said. “What that means of course is to be able to stop the Democratic agenda entirely.”

Kelly Winfrey, assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication said even if Democrats do secure the Senate race, margins will be slim, making it difficult to pass legislation. Shelley said Biden will have to push for legislation that is or has the appearance of being bipartisan. 

The legacy of the, now, lame duck.

Although Trump will no longer be actively serving, the legacy he leaves will mark American politics for generations to come as he successfully appointed three United States Supreme Court justices. Receiving less attention but arguably equally as important, Trump has also appointed more federal appeals court judges than any president at this point in his presidency, according to Pew Research.

Shelley said if Democrats are able to get New Deal-type legislation through Congress, there are Conservative judges who are likely to block it. These Conservative courts could also be faced with social and cultural issues.

“There are these very specific issues like the Affordable Care Act and health insurance protection, Roe v. Wade; those could disappear by Conservative court rulings,” Shelley said.  

With the new dynamic of the Supreme Court, Shelley said there is no way to tell how they will vote on these issues but there is a 6-3 Conservative appointed majority.

Trump still has until Jan. 20 to serve as president and Kedrowski said lame duck presidents usually make good use of this time in office.

“They are not just sitting around not accomplishing anything, they try to use the time as well as they can and I would expect that that will occur here,” Kedrowski said. 

Trump supporters have protested at state capitols encouraged by “Stop the Steal,” an effort to delegitimize the vote count. This is in response to Trump’s recent rhetoric accusing Democrats of stealing the election from him. 

“We believe these people are thieves,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “The big city machines are corrupt. This was a stolen election. Best pollster in Britain wrote this morning that this clearly was a stolen election, that it’s impossible to imagine that Biden outran Obama in some of these states.”

The president still has yet to concede and Trump supporters say the battle is far from over.

Laura Emery, a senior in financial counseling and planning, is involved in Young Americans for Freedom and the College Republicans and most importantly is a Conservative woman. Emery said she is skeptical of how votes were counted, specifically in swing states and she thinks it is good people are using their First Amendment right to protest the “irregularities” that came with this election.

“I don’t want to say fraud because fraud is a really big word and carries a lot of meaning but there were just a lot of the weird things that were happening, the media isn’t paying attention,” Emery said. 

Emery doesn’t know if Trump will run again in 2024 but regardless, she said the GOP also needs to address divisions within the party as well. 

Throughout Trump’s first term, some Republicans crossed party lines on issues such as impeachment trials and the Supreme Court nomination and appointment. Some Republicans have congratulated Biden on his victory, while Trump has yet to concede. Emery said this is upsetting to some Conservative voters because these Republicans were elected to fight for their cause and to stand with Trump full force. 

“I hope there isn’t but I think it is definitely possible there is going to be a fraction and a big fracture in the GOP and Republican Party in the future,” Emery said. 

Emery also said it will be difficult for the two parties to get much done because in today’s society, partisan divides go so deep. As votes continue to be counted, Trump earned over 70 million votes cast. Kedrowski said voter turnout for both candidates were record breaking but show the deep divide in this country. 

“I think we need to see a change in culture in wanting to go and ask why people believe the things they do and that extends from our living room to the White House,” Emery said. 

Winfrey said Biden has been in politics for a long time and is probably well-prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to get these issues that the country thinks need to be addressed resolved.

“We still have a ways to go before we can say we are actually uniting the country, it is still very polarized at this moment but hopefully we can be headed in that direction soon now that we are past the election,” Winfrey said. 

A Biden presidency will face all these issues and more come 2021. Johnson said these issues are much bigger than an election.

“We celebrate Trump’s loss, not Biden’s Victory,” Johnson said. “We got work to do and it doesn’t stop here. Let the marathon continue.”