WASHINGTON, Jan 19 — When Joe Biden became president, he inherited an America divided in almost every conceivable way, promising to be a force for unity and reconciliation.
One year after his inauguration, the country is taking stock of his success and failures.
‘Big, hopeful moment’
“I think Biden entered office and it was a big, hopeful moment,” recalls Raphy Jacobson, an 18-year-old New Yorker who has run several campaigns for candidates on the left.
Elected in a country bruised by the Covid-19 pandemic, shaken by a historic protest movement against racism, Biden pledged on January 20, 2021 to put “all my soul” into reuniting the United States.
But one year after the Democrat’s inauguration, Jacobson says he has “never felt more discouraged and disillusioned with the state of electoral politics.”
From the stalled giant social welfare and climate package meant to repair America to the foundering push for historic voting rights protections, “Democrats haven’t really passed anything they ran on,” he laments.
Months after his inauguration, Biden visited Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Anxious to heal the fissures splintering a society on edge, he became the first president to commemorate the city’s 1921 race massacre.
“At the time, a lot of us were excited for him to come,” says Kode Ransom, a 33-year-old African American.
But the visit left a bitter taste in his mouth.
It was “a political move,” says the tour guide, bemoaning Biden’s lack of concrete action.
Immigration promises broken
“We were hoping for a lot more,” says Adriana Jasso, an activist with a religious organisation that helps migrants in San Diego, California.
In front of the imposing border wall separating the US and Mexico, the 47-year-old speaks of her disappointment that Biden’s promises on immigration, like lifting curbs adopted under his predecessor Donald Trump seen as draconian, have not materialised.
But Jasso, who came to America undocumented as a teen, acknowledges that after four years of the Republican billionaire’s presidency, “we have experienced this last year as a kind of rest, a healing.”
‘Demolishing the economy’
Many Americans remain nostalgic for the Trump era, convinced that Biden has destroyed his predecessor’s achievements, especially on the economic front.
“Instead of fixing, he’s been destroying and demolishing the economy of the nation,” complains 57-year-old medic Ubaldo Miranda, from Miami.
“I believe our country is in the worst situation it’s ever been in history,” he tells AFP outside a Cuban restaurant, an iconic gathering place for Florida’s Republican activists.
The party accuses Biden of having fuelled unprecedented inflation — an issue that strikes at the heart of the American household. Under Biden, says Miranda, the United States is “more divided than ever.”
Not their president
According to opinion polls, more than half of conservative voters still do not consider 79-year-old Biden to be their president, convinced — wrongly — that the 2020 election was tainted by significant fraud.
“I believe the election was stolen,” says Boston resident Jenn Goode, without offering anything to back up her claim.
Democrats took advantage of the pandemic to manipulate the election, the 59-year-old insists, again without evidence.
Unvaccinated against Covid-19, she says she doesn’t believe media reports, only relying on mainstream journalism “for weather or sports.”
Biden’s Covid response, she maintains, is “separating people... dividing people.”
“Like when he says the unvaccinated is the problem, that’s not true at all,” she fumes. “That divides people.”
“I think it would have been worse if Trump had been reelected,” says Melarie Wheat, a 37-year-old member of the Mormon Church.
“So I don’t think that Joe Biden has necessarily made us more united but I think he has prevented it from being worse.”
Over the past year school boards nationwide have seen violent clashes over teaching about racism and Covid precautions such as mask mandates.
Wheat, a Utah homemaker, believes divisions on a national scale have “trickled down even to our local communities.”
Even in her church, with its conservative approach that prioritises family values, Wheat sees “a lot of issues now that you kind of have to tiptoe around.”
Twelve months after Biden took office, some Americans believe now might be the time for pushing back rather than reconciliation.
Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, which advocates for the “majority of Catholics who believe in reproductive freedom,” notes that since the inauguration Republican states have increased restrictive abortion laws.
They have also been allowed to curb the rights of transgender youth and minority voting access, Manson says, without a strong response from Biden.
“There is, right now, an overall frustration with Biden among people on the left,” she says, “because he keeps using rhetoric about how democracy is in peril.... And I think we’re waiting for that bold action, and we haven’t seen it yet.”
The 44-year-old campaigner voices frustration that Democrats “have been too delicate and too afraid of upsetting people and sort of walking on eggshells.”
“Being moderate and being milquetoast is not getting them the energy they need from the base,” she said. “And so I think it’s time to take some risks.” — AFP