How Biden’s first year in office changed the White House, but not America


AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign was centered on unity, a return to normalcy and an end to the “chaos” of the past four years, and on Jan. 20, 2021, Biden was sworn into office at one of the most unique times in American history.

Although, the next year would be filled with difficulty as Biden attempted to remedy the challenges that were facing the country. DePaul political science professor outlined some of the challenges awaiting Biden’s administration.

“[The biggest issues facing Biden were the] Covid pandemic, resistance to government actions on [the] pandemic, rising anti-government sentiment, political polarization, threats to democracy, rising inflation, rising crime, surging illegal immigration, growing economic inequality, decreasing economic opportunity, civil strife over racism, LBGTQ, and religion, very high expectations,” Steger said. “Those are a lot of problems.”

Whether inherited or not, these are just some of the problems that Biden was presented with after being elected, and his first year has been defined by how he has — or hasn’t — dealt with them.

The most unique situation that Biden has faced since taking office is the Covid-19 pandemic — specifically, attempting to slow the spread of the infection. The Trump administration was noted for its slow response to Covid-19, a trend that the Biden administration was set on reversing. A day after being sworn in, Biden’s administration released a national strategy for beating Covid-19, which, in 200 pages, showed Americans a much different approach toward battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

The biggest challenge for Biden was not assembling the Covid-19 response plan — it was getting people to trust it. According to Pew Research Center, the U.S. is at one of the lowest levels of trust in the government in its history, making it difficult to get over 300 million citizens on board with any federal action.

On the brighter side, after inheriting a struggling vaccination program, Biden’s administration completely revamped how the country would distribute the vaccines. Over 530 million doses have been given out over the past year and 75 percent of the population is now at least partially vaccinated. These numbers are considered one of the greatest successes of Biden’s first year in office.

Another change seen over the past year has been the nation’s handling of the climate change crisis. Once again, this is where Biden’s administration completely diverged from Trump’s, taking a much more active approach. On the same day he was sworn in, Biden chose to both cancel the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline and rejoin the Paris Agreement.

And in April 2021, he announced his goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 to 2035. Biden’s goal has been considered by many as highly ambitious for the country, especially after the Trump administration never set their own goal to reduce these emissions.

Biden has still struggled to get a lot of his legislation passed in his first year, in particular the Build Back Better plan, which has been particularly divisive in both the House and Senate. This ties into one of Biden’s biggest focuses, and something he has grappled with all year: unity.

During his inaugural speech, Biden repeatedly focused on unity, solidifying it as one of the key tenets of his presidential agenda.

“My whole soul is in this: bringing America together,” Biden said. “Uniting our people, and uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause.”

Yet, Biden still finds himself as the leader of an extremely divided country. As of Friday, Biden’s approval rating currently sits at about 42 percent — higher than Trump’s was after his first year, but lower than former President Barack Obama’s.

“I think that going into the 2020 election, the country needed what I call the ‘healer-in chief’ because it was so divided,” DePaul professor Nick Kachiroubas said. “And I think Biden’s personality has been that.”

The threat of midterm elections likely also looms in Biden’s mind. Democrats risk potentially losing seats in both the House and the Senate — a result that would certainly throw a wrench in their ability to pass legislation.

“It’s traditional in most presidents’ first midterm they lose control of one or more chambers, so that is not a surprise.” Kachiroubas said. “The notes on the wall, at least at this point — and we’re months out before the final election — is that he may lose the house.”

As Biden’s first year comes to a close, his administration has begun looking towards the next three. Just this past week, longtime liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer stepped down, opening up a seat on the court for Biden to fill. This provides Biden an opportunity to fulfill another promise from his campaign: to appoint the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

Still, many of Biden’s campaign promises remain unfulfilled, and some Americans, like DePaul senior Michael Caballero, hope that he can find a way to get a few of those things done.

“I’m a little skeptical from what I’ve seen so far, because there’s been a lot he hasn’t done,” Caballero said. “I’m looking for more concrete policies to come out, especially those from his campaign.”

The biggest question still hanging over Biden’s head is whether or not he will be running for reelection. The way that he reacts to the hardships that he’s faced in his first year will determine whether or not you see him on the ballot in 2024.