WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) - On this historic day, I'm reminded of the headline posted by the satirical website The Onion in 2008 on the night of Barack Obama's election to the presidency: BLACK MAN GIVEN NATION'S WORST JOB.
Now, it's Joe Biden's turn.
First, the good news: alongside the festering cesspool of mass death, economic collapse and bitter civil unrest, Biden inherits a crucial tool to help him dig out from under it all - the vaccines. There is every reason to think that the return of competent professionals to the White House and cabinet will lead to improved vaccine distribution; it better, or whatever "honeymoon" Biden may enjoy will vanish fast.
With mass vaccination of an estimated 70-to-90% of the public comes herd immunity, perhaps by sometime this summer. Suppression of viral spread and increased public confidence will likely lead to an explosion of pent-up economic energy. Having the kids in summer school (surely, every school district in the country is planning on that already, right?) will help fuel that boom.
Some sectors will rebound more quickly than others, but the recovery scenario should provide Biden with a political boost on top of any benefits from the additional stimulus funding and student loan waivers he hopes to roll out. He'll need every bit of political juice he can squeeze to pass some of his heavier lifts, like immigration reform.
Will he have any hope of a working partnership with the Republicans? Maybe.
Sen. Mitch McConnell's blunt denunciation of Trump's complicity in the Capitol riot is the strongest indication to date that Senate conviction on the impeachment count is possible. You need 17 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats for that, but once it's done, a simple majority vote in the Senate could bar Trump from ever seeking public office again. And if the big social media platforms summon the nerve to continue their Trump bans, that should remove one of the biggest obstacles to a GOP recovery from their disastrous string of losses.
In the meantime, sane Republicans have every incentive to work with Biden to suppress the pandemic and restore economic health. I suspect their recent discovery of concern about budget deficits will be set aside in favor of ending the nightmare.
Now, the bad news: McConnell may be so focused on returning to power that he'll set aside ideology and reflexive partisanship, but there are plenty of Republicans in Congress who are not. As we've just seen for the past four years, there are plenty of nuts in the bowl. Biden's margins in the Senate and House are so thin, there's always the chance he could be stalled by their resistance.
Meanwhile, there may well be enough anti-vaxxers and mask scofflaws around to complicate the path to herd immunity. And impatience - among the public and the political classes - is not the new president's friend. It's an open question how long the Democratic left will go along with Biden's strategies if they're not seeing quick enough action on their agenda items.
What can Biden say Wednesday to help rally our grotesquely maimed and divided country behind him? Not much. Inaugural addresses tend to be over-hyped and quickly forgotten. He has already made it clear what his pitch is - give me a chance to show what decency and competence can achieve and we'll all be living in a better place.
Best-case scenario: Trumpism, having issued its own recall warning on January 6, rots on the shelves as all but the most rabid consumers turn away in disgust. Bidenism, in all its centrist, relatively bipartisan glory, fills the vacuum. And America gets back to something approaching normal, able to enjoy a fully-functioning economy again.
Worst-case scenario: the cancer exposed by the past four years has metastasized, and no surgery by the voters can cure it.
God bless America. We need every bit of help we can get.
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