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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

An “American story of hope” – a critical take on the modern presidency

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

By Carolina Hughes

The inauguration of Joe Biden was a marked day in the history of the United States, but also for the rest of the ‘world… watching’.[1] His inaugural speech was the narration in the background of the final scene of a movie; the “bad guy” had lost, banished to far lands (specifically, Mar-à-Lago, travelling by helicopter), and peace was restored in America after four, tumultuous years – the happy ending everybody wanted.

In taking the critical view, this appears to be a ‘foolish fantasy’[2]. The difficulty that Biden’s office will now face is how to balance being in control of a nation that, on the one hand, is in an acutely fragile state, but on the other, is undeniably in need of fundamental reform. The history of the United States has compressed traumatic oppression, segregation and violence within the span of just over two centuries. However, the past four years, perhaps more than any others, have exposed the reality in excruciatingly stark terms. Systematic division between societal groups has accumulated throughout this history and eventually, under the Trump presidency, erupted in a political, socio-economic and ethical explosion. Particularly throughout 2020, many yearned for a “return to normalcy”[3]. The key question is therefore: in which direction is it best to move? To “progress” America would be to disrupt the already fragile status quo, uproot systematic failings, and evolve the state so that it actively seeks to combat its injustices. However, an initial insight into Biden’s inaugural address and policies points to an alternative method – a “regression” to less avant-garde policies, pre-dating the Trump era, to allow the nation to heal from a discordant term.

However, the “modern presidency” has been so adversely changed by Trump’s stint in office that one point is important to comprehend – America simply has no “normalcy” to return to. As much as Biden may will it to be so, America is no longer ‘a beacon to the world’[4] and therefore resorting to previously applicable policies is potentially detrimental to the 46th president of the United States. This is evinced in many facets of the media; “This is America”[5] conveys a particularly powerful message through music. Symbolism is rife amongst the lyrics and the chaos of the video highlights just how much America is a nation of ‘very strange juxtapositions.’[6] The harrowing story in “When They See Us”[7] and the publication of literary works, such as Ibrahim X. Kendi’s ‘How to Be an Antiracist’,[8] have also brought to the forefront problems that have plagued the US since its founding in 1776. The old style of presidential rule is inadequate to rebuild America.

It is therefore problematic that Biden’s policies are of a more restorative, rather than innovative, nature. As President Obama’s Vice-President, a ‘key part of [Biden’s] campaign was appealing to reluctant voters who have nostalgia for the Obama era… promising to re-enter many of the agreements formed during that time.’[9] This pledge came to fruition on Biden’s first day as President, signing 17 executive orders, citing that they were ‘to undo the damage that Trump has done’.[10] However, simply reversing Trump’s policies will not resolve the unrest that besets the country. In his first address to the population as President, Biden spoke of ‘defend[ing] the Constitution’ to ensure ‘unity’, ‘[n]ot to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s’.[11] The issue therein is that it has been shown that the Constitution can be manipulated to suit political aims and lacks applicability, almost 250 years after its ratification. In furtherance to this, problems that lie in “yesterday’s challenges” are a direct causal link to future ones. The political and social landscape of modern-day America requires more than restoring the old order before Trump. The progression of the country relies on active proposals that confront the challenges that have revealed themselves in the previous term. It would therefore be unwise for Biden to focus solely on “future” America without taking the time to look back. His ‘American story of hope’ will require a thorough re-establishment of democracy in order to repair the damage Trump caused, not simply overturning his policies.


[1] Joe Biden, 46th President of the United States of America “Inaugural Address by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.” (Speech at The United States Capitol, 21 January 2021). <> accessed 24 February 2021. [2] ibid. [3] Max Boot, “Opinion: Biden’s inauguration offered what America needs: A ‘return to normalcy’” (The Washington Post, 20 January 2021) <> accessed 24 February 2021. [4] (n 1). [5] Gambino, C, “This Is America” accessed 24 February 2021. [6] Guthrie Ramsey in Mahita Gajanan, “An Expert’s Take on the Symbolism in Childish Gambino’s Viral ‘This Is America’ Video” (TIME, 7 May 2018) <> accessed 24 February 2021. [7] “When They See Us” (Netflix, 31 May 2019) accessed 24 February 2021. [8] (n 1). [9] Rozina Sabur and Marcus Parekeh, “Joe Biden’s policies: The President’s views on Covid-19, immigration and the environment” (The Telegraph, 25 January 2021) <> accessed 24 February 2021. [10] Ema O’Connor, “Biden Just Repealed One Of Trump’s Major Anti-Abortion Policies” (BuzzFeed.News, 28 January 2021) <> accessed 24 February 2021. [11] (n 1).

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