HCR: Biden’s first 100 days – revising the American dream

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 29

Heather Cox Richardson

April 29, 2021

Today marks the hundredth day of the Biden-Harris administration. In many ways, the hundred-day mark is arbitrary, a holdover from the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who worked with Congress to pass 76 new laws by the end of his first 100 days, setting a high bar for a consequential presidency. A hundred days is not an entirely useless metric, though, because by that time, a modern president has generally set the tone of the administration. Crucial to the success of that tone is having scored a major win. That, in turn, sets the tone for public reaction to a presidency, which then feeds the administration’s momentum.

When President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took office on January 20, 2021, they were facing crises that rivaled the ones faced by FDR and even by President Abraham Lincoln, who took office after a number of southern states had declared they were leaving the United States to form their own confederacy.

Biden and Harris took office after the former president had supported an insurrection to overturn the results of the election and seize power. Trump denied the legitimacy of their election (and continues to deny it) despite more than 60 lawsuit outcomes that upheld it, while 147 members of Congress sided with the former president, challenging at least one of the official state-certified ballots that made Biden president. The actions of the former president were unprecedented, breaking our previous history of peaceful transitions of power, and on January 20, Washington, D.C., was patrolled by troops stationed there to protect the incoming government.

When Biden took office, the novel coronavirus was ravaging the country. More than 24 million of us had been infected with the virus, and more than 400,000 Americans had died of Covid-19, including 2727 deaths the day before Biden was sworn in. New variants were spreading, and while the previous administration had begun vaccinations, reaching about 4% of the population, it had not arranged for distribution of them, planning simply to get them to states and let the states handle the process from there.

The economy was under water. More than ten million people were out of work and another 3.9 million had stopped even looking. Economic growth before the pandemic was modest—2.2%—but the economy contracted during the crisis. Biden also inherited the biggest federal debt since World War II, standing at over $21.6 trillion. That debt was not simply a product of the coronavirus recession: Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, passed without a single Democratic vote, cost almost $230 billion, helping to create a federal deficit of $984 billion even before the pandemic hit. 

The first tweet Biden sent as president made a marked contrast from what Americans had seen for the previous four years. “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,” Biden wrote. “That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.”

And he did.

After he was sworn in and the ceremonies were over, Biden went to the Oval Office and began the process of signing more than a dozen executive actions that either addressed the pandemic or rolled back some of the policies of the previous administration.

During the campaign, Biden had promised to hit 100 million vaccine doses delivered in his first 100 days; on January 25, he increased that number to 200 million. By February, the administration had bought enough vaccines to inoculate all Americans and had begun to open mass vaccination sites. By April 22, the United States had met Biden’s goal of 200 million vaccinations, a week ahead of time.

On January 20, Biden announced the American Rescue Plan to rebuild the nation after the ravages of the pandemic. It appropriated $1.9 trillion to expand unemployment benefits, make direct payments to individuals, increase food security, fund housing, move children out of poverty, support small businesses, and fund support for healthcare and Covid vaccines. The plan passed Congress, and Biden signed it into law on March 11, less than two months after he took office, a major win.

The job market is rebounding. For the third straight week, initial jobless claims—which are a way to look at layoffs– have dropped below 600,000, the lowest they’ve been in a year. At the same time, U.S. employers added more than 900,000 jobs in March, and economists expect to see more than a half a million new jobs a month for the next year. That will not end the economic crisis of the past year—we are still down 8.4 million jobs from the beginning of the pandemic—but numbers are moving in the right direction. In the first quarter of 2021, the economy grew at an annual rate of 6.4%

A problem for the administration that did not show up in the media last January was the budding crisis at our southern border, where numbers of refugees were about to surge both with seasonal migration and with those held at the border by the former administration. The administration adhered to Covid protocols, turning away from admission all but unaccompanied children. This initially created a surge of children in Border Patrol and Health and Human Services facilities, but the administration has worked to get the situation under control. The number of children in the custody of Border Patrol has dropped 82% in the past month, leaving fewer than 1000 still in custody. The problem is not solved—the children still need to be moved out of Health and Human Services facilities—but it seems to be getting into order.

But Biden has done more than address the coronavirus crisis, the economy, or the refugee crisis. He is reclaiming the nation from the policies of the Reagan Revolution, rejecting the idea central to that revolution, that government is bad by nature and that the country works best when we turn it over to individual actors. He is doing so by working around the Republican lawmakers who are determined to obstruct him at every turn, appealing instead to ordinary Republican voters, who actually want many of the same things ordinary Democratic voters do. The American Rescue Plan, for example, was popular with 77% of Americans, although it received not a single Republican vote.

Biden is reasserting the idea that government can address problems that can only be fixed at a national scale—problems like a pandemic and the economy—but he is not resurrecting the idea of using the government to protect the ability of men to support their families, as FDR did. He is adapting the idea of an active government to the civil rights movements after World War II, defending the rights of Americans as individuals, rather than as members of nuclear families. His administration is centering children and those who take care of them, rather than shoring up any particular family structure.

His revision of the American dream shows in his appointment of the most diverse cabinet in American history: 58% of his political appointees are women while half identify as non-white, 15% were the first in their families to go to college, and 32% are naturalized citizens or first-generation Americans. He chose the first female vice president, the first female Treasury Secretary, the first Indigenous American to lead the Interior Department, and the first Black head of the Pentagon.

One thing, though, about what sure seems to be a very strong start from the Biden administration…. Never forget that what made the American Rescue Plan possible was the election of Democratic Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Had the Democrats not held 50 seats in the Senate, enabling them to enact the American Rescue Plan through reconciliation, Biden would be able to maneuver only through executive orders, since Republicans in the Senate would have stopped all legislation.

Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, traveled today to Plains, Georgia, to visit former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. “We owe a special thanks to the people of Georgia. Because of you, the rest of America was able to get help,” Biden said to reporters while he was there. “If you ever wonder if elections make a difference, just remember what you did here in Georgia…. You changed America.”

HCR: Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 20

Heather Cox Richardson

April 20, 2021

Today a jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota, convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin on all counts in the death of George Floyd. On May 25, 2020, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds after arresting him for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. The jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 75 years in prison, and will be sentenced in two months.

As we heard this verdict today, it was striking how many Americans breathed a sigh of relief. It stands out to me that, although a girl passing by, Darnella Frazier, had the presence of mind to record a video of the entire encounter on her cell phone so we could all see what happened entirely too clearly, we were not certain of the outcome.

When they released information about Floyd’s death on May 26, the Minneapolis police department described it like this: “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. [He was, in fact, dead.] Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

If Ms. Frazier had not captured the video, would Chauvin be in prison right now? Between 2013 and 2019, only 1% of killings by police have resulted in criminal charges.

How many of those deaths are like that of Mr. Floyd?

I cannot help but think of the famous image of Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price and Sheriff Laurence A. Rainey laughing at a hearing after their arraignment following the murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964.

Price and Rainey were members of the Ku Klux Klan. On June 21, Price stopped James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, allegedly for speeding, then arrested them on suspicion that they had burned a church. That night, after they paid their speeding ticket and left, Price followed them, stopped them, ordered them into his car, and then took them down a deserted road and turned them over to two cars full of his fellow terrorists. They beat and murdered the men and buried them at an earthen dam that was under construction.

Price and Rainey thought it was funny when they were arraigned along with 16 of their friends—not for murder, because Mississippi refused to bring charges, but for conspiracy and violating the civil rights of the murdered men, both federal offenses. And why shouldn’t they think it was all a joke? The jury was white and, after all, they were law enforcement officers.

But, in the end, Price was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison (he served four) and Rainey, who was not at the murder scene, was found not guilty, but lost his job and his marriage and blamed the FBI and the media for ruining his life.

That’s what at stake today, of course. After 1877, certain white men in the American South could commit crimes with impunity, doing whatever they wished to the rest of us, because the region had become a one-party state. Protesters like Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner set out to reestablish the principle of equality before the law. In 1964, Price and Rainey tried to stop them and found, to their surprise, that the world had changed. Then, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act protecting the right of Black people to vote and the stranglehold of the white supremacists on the one-party South loosened.

In 2021, once again, certain people in our government and law enforcement would like to exercise the political dominance of a one-party state and the power that comes with it, this time on a national scale. Today, Chauvin found, to his apparent surprise, that the world is changing.

May her extraordinary act of bearing witness bring peace to Ms. Frazier.

Rest in power, Mr. Floyd.

HCR: Another Capitol attack and GOP’s attempt to undermine democracy

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 3

Heather Cox Richardson

I spent all day writing only to emerge tonight to a flood of news.

Some of it is tragic but seems random: a man apparently drove a car into a barricade near the White House, injuring two Capitol Police officers before hitting the barrier. He got out of the car with a knife, and police officers shot him when he did not respond to their commands. He died. So did one of the Capitol Police officers, an 18-year veteran of the force, Officer William “Billy” Evans. The assailant has been identified as 25-year-old Noah Green of Indiana, and he appears to have feared that the CIA and the FBI were targeting him with mind control.

Other news seems to be about rebuilding the nation from the troubles of the previous administration: President Joe Biden had a 30-40 minute phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s burgeoning democracy as Russia builds up troops in the region. Former president Trump soured the U.S. relationship with Ukraine when he tried to get Zelenskyy to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, to discredit the man he expected—correctly—to be his main rival in the 2020 presidential election, before Trump would release money Ukraine needed to defend itself against Russia.

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How to support Black creative projects in Scotland

We spotlight some of the most exciting Black-led creative projects happening in Scotland and further abroad, including the Black Lives Matter mural and Fringe of Colour, and ways you can help out.

Another week, another article – we could get used to this! This week, we’re spotlighting some incredible projects by Black creatives in Scotland and further afield (dare we say…England?), as well as highlighting some causes open for donations. The conversation surrounding Black Lives Matter has definitely dwindled in some circles, but we believe anti-racism requires not only long-term commitment, but also active participation – seeking out names, projects, and stories mainstream white culture might otherwise not expose you to.


To that end, we’ve lined up some of the most exciting work happening in this strange year. Black Lives Matter murals are popping up in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness thanks to a new trail produced by Wezi Mhura. Fringe of Colour, which made huge waves during last year’s Fringe season, is back with its own online arts festival. And we have a whole bunch of books and films we’ve been obsessively reading and watching that we’d love to share with you, too. Read, share, donate – let’s keep the conversation going.

Project Myopia
Founded by two University of Edinburgh students, Rianna Walcott and Toby Sharpe, Project Myopia is a call to diversify university curricula through articles, artwork, and video essays that explore texts traditionally left out of the canon. They accept submissions year round, or you can donate here. Image: Susie Purvis. Continue reading